With a top-five showdown looming large next week, the Carrollton High School football team didn't get caught peeking ahead and handled its business on Friday night at Grisham Stadium.
The No. 4 Trojans methodically pulled away from Woodland, Cartersville and its triple-option attack for a 41-6 victory, improving to 4-0 on the year and 2-0 in Region 7-AAAAA action leading up to next week's trip to defending state champion and top-ranked Rome.
"I promise we were not looking ahead. This is a very good Woodland team. Coach [Tony] Plott does a fantastic job. They've got some players that could play for anybody in this region," Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said. "I've got to first thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving us the ability to be out here and keeping both teams healthy. Our kids, we've got good enough leadership and good enough discipline to never overlook somebody. We talk about it. When you overlook somebody, that's when you can slip up and be on the wrong side of the scoreboard."
Freshman linebacker Chaz Chambliss recorded 6.5 tackles, including three for a loss with a sack, while E.J. Pride, Jr. added 4.5 takedowns with an interception and a fumble recovery to lead the Trojan defensive attack.
"It's about what our defense preaches, and that's 'Do your job.' We've got the sticker on everybody's helmet," Calhoun said. "When you play Wing-T, Option, T-formation offenses, it's all about doing your job, your assignment and not being selfish."
The Trojans also had several young players starting in key roles this week as senior wideout and Purdue University commit Jordan Bonner was sidelined with a knee injury and senior tailback Jaylan Thomas also sat out with an undisclosed injury that appeared to be minor.
The Trojans did get junior defensive tackle R.J. Russell back Friday, seeing his first action since suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Newnan.
As for Friday's game, the Trojans featured a backfield-by-committee that included Kodee Brewer, Brandon Marenco and Kaleb Thomaston, while quarterback Mark Wright was dialing up passes to Isaiah Lancaster, Dalton Benefield and sophomore Miles McLendon.
"We expect the same thing from them as we do a three-year starter or a senior or anybody else. They stepped up and did a great job. We always talk about family and stepping up for my brother, and they did it [Friday]," Calhoun said. "Obviously, the more experience that you can get from freshmen, sophomores, juniors, the better we'll be down the road and the better we'll be next week and the week after that."
The Trojans took the opening drive 65 yards on 11 plays, scoring on a five-yard run by Brewer for the early 8-0 advantage following a two-point pass from Wright to Lancaster.
Carrollton was in position to score on its second drive, but Brewer fumbled at the Woodland 14 with 3:33 to go in the first quarter, marking the first of two first-half turnovers for the Trojans, who actually fumbled three times in the half but were able to recover two of them.
The Trojans used a big special teams play to get on the board, though, as Andy Smith blocked a punt, scooped it up and raced 12 yards into the end zone for the 15-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
Smith is a jack-of-all trades kind of guy for the Trojans and he certainly provided a spark with his special teams gem.
"We've been talking about making a game-changing play on special teams and haven't had one yet. We got one [Friday] and it was awesome," Calhoun said. "It changes the game. When you can get a non-offensive touchdown, it just changes the game. I was so proud of [Smith], but I was so proud of all of them. That whole punt-rush unit did a great job."
On the ensuing Wildcat drive, Pride, Jr. picked off a Brody Williams pass at midfield, setting up an 11-yard Thomaston touchdown run with 7:47 remaining in the half for the 22-0 Trojan lead.
Carrollton out-gained Woodland 200-63 in first-half yardage, holding the visitors to an 0-for-6 showing on third-down conversions.
In the second half, Carrollton scored on its first two possessions with the starters in the game, as Wright hooked up with Benefield on a 48-yard touchdown pass and Brewer found the end zone for the second time of the night on a two-yard run for the 35-0 lead and running clock heading into the fourth quarter.
Woodland spoiled the shutout with 4:40 remaining in the fourth on a 10-yard Justice Carter touchdown run and the Trojans answered on a one-yard touchdown pass from Tristen Allen to Josh Lee on the final play of the game.
One of the concerning aspects of the game for Carrollton was putting the ball on the ground three times — losing one — and throwing an interception, something Calhoun said must get cleaned up before next week.
"We were able to overcome it [Friday] and able to overcome it last week, but that doesn't happen very much," Calhoun said. "That's having a little luck on your side, and I'm all for having some luck on my side. But if you keep doing stuff like that, your luck is going to run out."
The Trojans are now set for a colossal clash at Rome (4-0, 2-0) next week, as the Wolves hammered Paulding County in a 62-0 rout on Friday night. The defending state champs and No. 1 team in Class AAAAA return nearly everyone from last season's juggernaut and Calhoun said his ballclub will have to be sharp in all three phases to give itself a chance to pull off the road upset.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us. They're going to be the heavy favorite. They've won now 16 in a row. D-I kids everywhere. It's going to be a hard test for us, but I promise you our kids are going to give it everything they've got. We've got to have a good week of practice and a good week of preparation," Calhoun said. "But we're going to enjoy this one because every win in this region is hard to come by."