The Carrollton High School football team clinched a spot in the Class AAAAA state playoffs with its dismantling of Paulding County last week, but postseason seeding will be on the line when the Trojans welcome Hiram to Grisham Stadium for the regular-season finale at 7:30 tonight.
As things currently stand, Carrollton (7-2, 5-2 Region 7-AAAAA) is a three seed for the state playoffs. With a win against the Hornets (4-5, 3-4 Region 7-AAAAA) tonight, the Trojans would drop no lower than a three seed. If they win and Woodland upsets Kell, the Trojans slip into the two seed.
While Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun and the Trojans understand what is at stake, they're making sure they handle their business and let the pieces fall where they may.
"We've got to focus on what we can control. That's what we talked about Sunday in the meeting," Calhoun said. "That's us playing our best, sending our seniors out on top, especially if this is the last game that those guys every play in Grisham Stadium. Because if we go into the playoffs as a three, you're on the road unless there's an upset somewhere."
Carrollton's senior class has been part of a special run.
Calhoun took over as head coach in 2016 when the current senior class was in its sophomore year, after the Trojans had posted a combined 9-11 record over their previous two seasons. In three seasons with Calhoun at the helm, Carrollton has gone 24-5 and is fresh off of back-to-back state playoff quarterfinal appearances.
"It's going to be an emotional night, a special night, so hopefully we can send those seniors out on top," Calhoun said. "But it's great knowing that we have a Game 11. We've just got to focus on Game 10."
Hiram enters tonight's bout having lost three straight games to Villa Rica, Rome and Kell. Calhoun praised the Hornets' defense — led by senior defensive end Kristian Varner, a Louisville commit — for having the ability to dial up various blitzes and put pressure on Carrollton's offense.
Offensively, the Hornets are led by senior quarterback Nate Presnell and senior running back Marcuis Fulks. Presnell enters with 771 passing yards, nine passing touchdowns and six interceptions, while Fulks has accumulated 1,359 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on 184 carries for the Hornets this season.
"I think they've got one of the most dynamic running backs in our region, in my option, behind Rome's kid and East Paulding's kid," Calhoun said. "I don't think you can ever stop somebody that good, but the question will be, 'Can we contain him?' And, obviously, their quarterback makes them go… They do a good job of mixing up the run and the pass."
The last time the Trojans faced the duo and and the rest of the Hiram squad, things went south in a hurry.
Carrollton hosted the Hornets on Oct. 13, 2017, one week removed from losing its starting quarterback to a collarbone injury. The Trojans were overmatched and blown out on their home turf, 41-14.
They haven't forgotten.
On Sunday, Calhoun and the coaching staff plastered white pieces of paper that read "AJC Top 10 Update: Hiram Stuns No. 6 Carrollton" with both schools' logos and the score blown up below it all over the field house. The Grisham Stadium scoreboard has also read 41-14 during this week at practice.
"That's posted everywhere. Everywhere. You can't turn and go five feet without seeing it," Calhoun said. "They came over and kicked our tail and embarrassed us. We don't harp on the past, but there are things sometimes you don't need to forget. I wanted them to be able to remember that time from last year, because it was embarrassing, for sure."
Tonight's contest will broadcast live on KISS 102.7 FM.