These are good days for the football program at Carver, which has reached the state semifinals for the first time since 1968.
“This place has been excited since Friday night,” Carver coach Darren Myles said.
That’s because the Panthers knocked off No. 5-ranked Jones County 26-21 at Grady Stadium, thus earning a spot in the Class AAAAA semifinals against No. 4 Warner Robins.
“To be in a position to be one of the last four teams is an accomplishment in itself,” Myles said. “That’s the goal of every program when the year starts.”
Carver has overcome its own unique set of obstacles. The inner-city Atlanta school has very limited recourses. They don’t have the luxury of a fieldhouse like 90 percent of the other teams in the state. They share a weight room with the PE class. If they want to have a film study, they’ve got to borrow a classroom.
Once they reached the field, the Panthers have been playing at a high level all season. They won the Region 6 championship, the program’s first region title since 2007, and averaged 32.8 points per game.
Ironically, Myles said this year’s team benefitted the most from its only loss, a 23-20 setback to Alexander on the third week of the season. That defeat helped galvanize Myles’ message to play hard and take nothing for granted.
“That was a heartbreaker,” Myles said. “What it did for us is help us understand how to play in a hostile environment. Sometimes the calls are going to go your way and sometimes they aren’t. If they don’t, how you respond is important. That was a big turning point for them growing up.”
The atmosphere at Alexander will be peaceful compared to what Carver will find when they get to Warner Robins on Friday. McConnell-Talbert Stadium is one of the most ferocious settings in the state for visitors and Friday will be no exception.
“That’s OK because if you want to win a state championship, you want to play in the best environment possible,” Myles said.
The Panthers will be tasked to play at their highest level. The team’s defense will be asked to slow down a Warner Robins club that put 63 points on the board against Carrollton in the quarterfinals.
“Warner Robins is highly explosive,” Myles said. “It’s not easy to be 13-0. We’re definitely going to have to play at a high level. Our defense has stepped up all year and they’ve worked hard at eliminating the big plays and the explosive plays. We’ve got to match up our playmakers with their playmakers and play at a high level.”