Hosting fourth-seeded Loganville in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs on a chilly night in Grisham Stadium, the third-seeded Carrollton High School football team caught fire offensively in the first two quarters and held on for a 29-6 victory on Friday night.
With the victory, the Trojans advance to the third round for the third season in a row and will travel to No. 2 seed Stockbridge next week to play for a spot in the state semifinals.
"First and foremost, I definitely have got to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Obviously, he's the reason why we're all out here," Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said. "I'm proud of our kids. Anytime you can win in the playoffs, it doesn't matter what round, you're doing something good."
The Trojans (10-2) had a field day on the ground as they outgained the Red Devils (5-7) 284-19 in net rushing yards. The run game was bolstered by junior Brandon Marenco, who racked up 135 yards on 12 carries and found the end zone twice.
"You're looking at a kid who has just been consistently consistent. He's just continuously running the football and just doing a good job for us," Calhoun said. "With our other backs, Trent Lane and Kodee Brewer, we kind of have a three-head monster there. Some night it's one kid, some nights it's all of them. We just kind of keep them fresh and whoever has the hot hand, let's go."
Lane, a senior, added 68 rushing yards on nine carries and a touchdown for the Trojans. Brewer, a junior, picked up 46 yards on eight carries.
Carrollton's offense appeared to be clicking from the time it received the opening kickoff on Friday, scoring on each of its first four possessions.
The Trojans began their first drive of the night on their own 22-yard line and marched down the field before Marenco received the snap in a Wildcat formation and sprinted down the right sideline for an 11-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion on a run from junior Chase Sippola gave the Trojans an 8-0 lead with 7:48 to go in the opening quarter.
Carrollton's defense forced a turnover on downs on Loganville's first possession of the night. Five plays later, Marenco burst up the middle for a 36-yard score to extend Carrollton's advantage to 15-0 with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
The Trojans took just one play to find the end zone on their next drive. After taking over at midfield following Loganville's second punt of the game, freshman wide receiver Terrell Carmichael took the snap and dialed up senior Virgil Brewer II for a 50-yard touchdown pass to make it 22-0 with 11:36 to play in the first half.
Carrollton began its fourth drive of the night on its own 36-yard line. After a false start penalty backed the Trojans up before the drive even began, they methodically moved down the field before striking on Lane's 14-yard rushing touchdown to open a 29-0 lead at the 5:29 mark in the second quarter.
The ensuing drive looked promising for the Trojans until an interception in the end zone brought it to an abrupt end with less than a minute remaining in the half. The Red Devils capitalized on the turnover, driving the ball 80 yards and scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Tanner Greene to senior D'errius Hart as time expired in the second quarter.
Both sides struggled to find any kind of rhythm in the second half. After 273 yards of total offense in the first half, the Trojans were held to just 104 total yards over the third and fourth quarters and were held out of the end zone for the remainder of the night.
Furthermore, Carrollton put ball on the ground three times in the second half alone while finishing the night with 11 total penalties for 116 yards. Loganville was penalized 11 times for 95 yards.
Calhoun pointed to the penalties, turnovers, and lack of offensive production in the second half as things the Trojans will need to clean up if they want to pull off the upset of Stockbridge next week.
"We just got into a lull offensively in the second half," Calhoun said. "I mean, three turnovers, still having a couple snap issues. Bottom line is that's gong to get us beat. We had too many undisciplined penalties. We're too disciplined, we're too good of a team, we have too good of kids to do that. That's not indicative of us, it's just something that we have to correct."
Playing in Game 13 for the third straight season, the Trojans will look to change their fortunes this year after losing to Warner Robins, 63-24, in 2017 and Buford, 34-27, in 2016.
"We're down to only eight teams playing, which is an unbelievable accomplishment, but that's not our dream," Calhoun said. "That's not our end goal. That's a step on the way, but we want to be one of two playing and then you want to be the one last one that can hold their number one up and mean that. We've just got to find a way to get over this Game 13 hump."