SANDY SPRINGS- Things looked shaky for the Carrollton High School football team midway through its first-round road playoff bout at Riverwood on Friday.
But a bruising ground game and an opportunistic defense prevailed as the third-seeded Trojans advanced in the Class AAAAA state playoffs with a 41-30 victory over the second-seeded Raiders.
“I got to give all the praise and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for just giving us the ability to be out here and enjoy playoff football,” Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said afterwards. “There’s nothing like it.”
Carrollton (9-2) established control early in the cold, rainy evening in Sandy Springs as during the opening drive, freshman starting quarterback Myles Morris took a read-option 66 yards to the house to put the Trojans on the board.
Following a Riverwood (8-3) punt, junior running back Brandon Marenco got in on the scoring action on the next Trojan drive with a four-yard wildcat touchdown to put the visitors up 14-0.
Through their first two scoring drives, the Trojans managed to overcome issues with bad snaps. They would soon pay a price for the miscues.
In the red zone with a chance to push their lead out even further, Morris bobbled a snap for a fumble that was recovered by Raider linebacker Larry Thomas.
Riverwood would make them pay on the next series with a 48-yard touchdown run by Reese White to put the Blue and Red on the scoreboard early in the second quarter.
After extending their lead out to 20-7 with a Morris to Isiah Lancaster touchdown pass, disaster struck for CHS once again when after going three-and-out on their next drive, a high snap sailed over the head of punter Nick Tuggle and through back of the end zone for a Riverwood safety.
Receiving the ball back following the free kick, quarterback A.C. Graham turned on the jets for a 60-yard TD run on the first play of the drive to cut Carrollton’s lead down to four.
Getting the ball back with just over a minute left in the half, the senior Reese broke off an explosive 92-yard score to give Riverwood a sudden 23-20 lead heading into the break.
Forcing a Raider turnover on downs coming out of halftime, the Trojans got back on schedule when Kodee Brewer got loose and darted for a 34-yard touchdown run.
Getting the ball back after another punt by the home team at Hoskyn Stadium, Trent Lane offered his services on the ground by bursting for a 29-yard gain before finding the end zone on an 11-yard run to put his Trojans up 34-23.
Riverwood still had plenty of fight.
Shaking off an interception to four-star Trojan linebacker Kevin Swint, Graham dialed up Tre Young for a 36-yard completion that set up a four-yard White touchdown to bring them back within a score heading into the fourth quarter.
On the next Carrollton possession, however, Marenco would once again boulder his way to paydirt off a direct snap to put them up 41-30.
He’d finish the game with 173 rushing yards on 23 carries and two scores during a night where four different Carrollton rushers found the end zone.
“They all bring something different to the table. They’re all very unselfish, they don’t care who’s carrying the ball and they all work extremely hard in the weight room, in the classroom, and on the field. We’re very fortunate and I was proud to see each one of them get some stuff going (Friday),” Calhoun said. “I got to say, they’re running behind an offensive line and they’re running behind two tight ends in Dacious Wright and Chase Sippola who won’t be in the stat column, but who are doing everything they can to block for them. I’m proud of all of them.”
Trying to close the contest down, the Trojan ‘D’ came up big late in the fourth. On fourth and long, Swint sacked Graham to force a critical turnover on downs. Then with under a minute left, a desperation heave would be picked off by Charlie Lanier to seal the deal and advance to the second round.
After giving up a handful of big plays in the first half, Coach Calhoun talked about the what he and the coaching staff told their defense.
“Just play your keys and do your job,” Calhoun said. “They have a couple of really good football players and we knew they were going to make plays, we were just able to minimize them in the second half.”
The Trojans will host fourth-seeded Loganville in next week’s round-two battle, who upset top-seeded S.W. DeKalb 14-13 on Friday.
Left speechless after learning the news of the Loganville upset, Coach Calhoun expressed his excitement of his Trojans getting the opportunity to host a playoff game after all.
“Anytime you can stay at home is always great. I hope Grisham Stadium is absolutely slam packed and I hope it’s a big time homefield advantage for us because our kids deserve that,” Calhoun said. “We’re going to Game 12 and it’s hard to get to Game 12. We’re going to enjoy this one and get back to work on Sunday.”