Like most high school football coaches in Georgia, Carrollton’s Sean Calhoun doesn’t mind holding practice on Thanksgiving morning. This year is no exception.
“When you’re practicing on Thanksgiving, it means you’re still playing and still have a chance to win a championship,” first-year Carrollton coach Sean Calhoun said.
This year it means you’ve got a team in the state quarterfinals. You’re one of eight teams remaining who have a chance to win the championship. It’s the first time Carrollton has been here since 2013. Buford, the Trojans’ opponent on Friday, has reached the third round of the playoffs for 17 straight years.
The No. 3-ranked Trojans (11-1) travel to play No. 1-ranked Buford (11-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in which is expected to be the spotlight game on Friday’s stellar schedule.
“You know that eventually, if you want to win a state championship, sooner or later you’re going to have to play the best and right now that’s Buford,” Calhoun said.
It will be the first meeting between the two old-school traditional state powers. Buford has won 11 state championship and 26 region titles. Carrollton has won seven championships and 29 region titles. That’s a lot of hardware.
Carrollton has won seven straight since losing to Rome. Buford has reeled off 11 straight wins since losing to Roswell, a quarterfinalist in Class AAAAAAA.
Both coaches believe the game will be determined my mistakes.
Buford coach Jess Simpson said, “If you play a clean game and avoid turnovers, it usually comes down to the team that makes the plays.”
Calhoun said, “The thing that wins big games is execution. Their defense is never out of place, they tackle well and they force turnovers.”
The winner of the Carrollton-Buford game will play the Kell-Woodland winner in the semifinals.
The other three quarterfinal games are also quite excellent.
No. 10 Griffin at No. 2 Stockbridge: Griffin (11-1) has produced a point parade under first-year coach Antonio Andrews. The Bears even found a way to win last week when their offense was limited to 27 points – matching the fewest points they’ve scored all year.
Stockbridge (12-0) began the season by beating Mays (a quarterfinalist in Class AAAAAA) and has methodically rolled through the schedule. The Tigers are 12-0 for the second straight year; they lost to Glynn Academy in the quarterfinals last year.
Stockbridge and Griffin have played eight times, with Griffin leading the series 7-1. Griffin won the last meeting 35-14 in 2013. The only win for Stockbridge came in 2012.
No. 6 Ware County at No. 4 Rome: This is a rematch from last year, when Ware County beat Rome 35-24 in a second-round playoff game in Waycross. That is the only meeting between the two teams.
Ware County (8-3) has played one of the most challenging schedules in the state, losing to larger powers Glynn Academy, Northside Warner Robins and Lowndes – all still alive in the quarterfinals -- and beating Region 6 champion Grady. The Gators are on a six-game winning streak.
Rome (10-2) has won nine straight since losing to Kell. It would be difficult to find a team whose defense is playing at a higher level. The Wolves had shutout their last two opponents and have allowed a combined 20 points over the last seven games.
No. 5 Kell at No. 7 Woodland: If there is a Cinderella story this late in the playoffs, it would probably be Woodland. The Wolfpack (10-2) are in the playoffs for the first time and make history with each win. Woodland has won five straight games since its lost to Region 4 rival Stockbridge and has shown a flair of winning close games, last week beating Grady on a last-second field goal.
Kell (10-2) has won four straight since its loss to Carrollton. The Longhorns have had nothing but success since Derek Cook took over the program in 2008. They reached the quarterfinals in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but are still seeking their first trip to the championship.
The winner will play the Carrollton-Buford winner in the semifinals.