The Class AAA semifinals produced two of the more hard-fought games of the season, and we should get another classic in the championship game. The No. 4 Calhoun Yellow Jackets will play the second-ranked Peach County Trojans at 1 p.m. Friday at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
The 13-1 Calhoun Yellow Jackets put up its best defensive stand all year to defeat defending champion Cedar Grove 14-6 , ending the Saints' 23-game winning streak.
“I can’t say enough about this football team," Calhoun coach Hal Lamb told Rory Sharrock, who covered the game for the AJC. "There were a lot of people who doubted we could win this game. We believed we could win this game. Our defense was tremendous tonight . To hold them to six points. They got six because of a turnover. Our defense was just incredible.”
During a conversation earlier in the week, Lamb told me he knew his team had been overlooked, but the goal was still the state title game.
“Ever since the Cartersville game (Calhoun lost 58-6), we really have played well," Lamb said. "We have got a chance to get to the state championship game, which was our goal from Day 1. And it is a challenging task, but there are only four teams left. I think either one of the four can win it, but we just have to go play our best football game of the year to have a chance.”
He added that being overlooked only helped his kids.
“They piggy-back on that," he said. "They’ve worked hard, just like everyone else has, all year long. Those three teams, and rightfully so, they’re very, very good football teams, but I think we’re a very good football team. So Cedar Grove is the defending champions, and they're the champs until someone knocks them off. So that is our challenge.”
Calhoun bested the challenged.
The Yellow Jackets leaned heavily on junior defensive back Bralin Barton, who had three interceptions that stalled the Saints' offensive production. Calhoun made another huge defensive play with a blocked punt deep inside Cedar Grove territory, which quarterback Gavin Gray turned into points with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Davis Allen.
The Saints had a chance to pull the game closer with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Barton’s third interception put any chances of a Cedar Grove comeback to bed.
In Norcross, the Peach County Trojans sent Greater Atlanta Christian on the short trip home after a 28-23 victory. The victory avenged a semifinal loss in Fort Valley last season, 13-7.
Peach’s Antonio Gilbert, who finished 28-of-37 passing for 325 yards and two touchdowns, completed 28 passes to seven different receivers. It was if coach Chad Campbell was saying to the state, yet again, “We are not a one-man show.” This has been Campbell’s mantra since losing his star receiver, UGA commitment Kearis Jackson, to injury.
“This has been our goal since the spring,” Campbell told David Mitchell, who covered the game for the AJC. “That’s what it’s all about. Our kids have been resilient and given us a chance to do something special.”
The Trojans took a 12-7 lead at the half and extended the lead early in the third quarter on Gilbert's touchdown pass to Jaydon Gibson. Peach then put together an 80-yard drive, orchestrated by Gilbert and running back Trevon Woolfolk. The drive took almost eight minutes off the clock.
“What was that, like eight minutes?” Campbell said. “That’s championship material right there.”
Now Peach turns its “Not-A-One-Man-Show” bus toward Mercedes Benz Stadium for a rematch of 2015’s second-round loss to Calhoun (20-14). If you’re looking for hints at what to expect in terms of intensity, Peach County’s Facebook page already has posted this “cryptic” gem: “The Payback tour continues. Next up: The Calhoun Yellow Jackets. Oh, yes. We remember. Hey Calhoun, the Trojan Nation is coming.”
The Calhoun supporters, however, are trying to figure out what to do with all of their region trophies and more recent title rings so they did not have time to respond.
So, no predictions this week. Two outstanding football programs with championship pedigrees. Who knows?