By Mason Wittner with The Times Georgian
The Carrollton High School football team’s quest for a state championship came to an end in the quarterfinals for the fourth year in a row Friday night.
At the end of a four-quarter slugfest between the two heavyweights, No. 2 Buford stunned the No. 1 Trojans by drilling a 28-yard field goal as time expired to pull out a 24-21 victory. Buford advanced to the Class AAAAA state semifinals and will travel to No. 1 Jones County next Friday night to play for a spot in the state championship.
Carrollton finished the year at 12-1 and was the last team from Region 7 to be eliminated.
“First and foremost, all praise and glory goes to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. God is great all the time. I know that He loves us the same amount that He did before kickoff, and I love these kids the same amount as I did before kickoff. That’s the biggest thing that I try to show them,” Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said. “Every season is going to end in tears, it’s just a question of which ones: the happy ones or the sad ones? And [Friday] it was the sad ones.”
Though the Trojans fell short of their ultimate goal of reaching Game 15 and capturing their first state championship since 1998, the 2019 season will likely be remembered fondly by the Black and Gold faithful.
The team knocked out a pair of habitual thorns in its side in Rome and Kell en route to capturing its first outright region title since 2011. It then closed out the regular season with an unblemished record and hosted three games in a single postseason for the first time in Calhoun’s tenure.
It wasn’t the finish Carrollton wanted, but Calhoun made sure his kids left the field house for the final time this season understanding everything they’d accomplished this fall — both on and off the field.
“This team gave a community that was hurting hope and something to cling to. And me telling these kids thank you for doing that is nowhere near enough, but it’s the only thing I can do,” he said. “I tell them ‘thank you,’ hug them, say ‘I love you.’ Special season, special individuals.”
Carrollton found success on the ground all night, picking up 277 of its 338 total yards of offense through the rushing attack. Senior running back Mecose Todd led the way in his final game as a Trojan by racking up 186 yards and three scores on 22 touches.
On the other side, Buford’s power run game was led by sophomore Victor Venn, who pounded the rock 34 times to the tune of 235 yards and two touchdowns.
The clubs went into the locker room tied up at 14, but it didn’t take very long for Carrollton to seize all momentum in the third quarter.
After kicking off to start the half, Carrollton promptly stifled the Wolves and forced a punt. On their ensuing drive, the Trojans ran the ball down the throat of the Buford defense before capping a 74-yard drive with a 1-yard rush from Todd.
Buford’s best defense against Carrollton was extending drives and keeping the Trojan offense off the field. The Wolves did just that in the third quarter, stringing together a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that milked nearly eight minutes of game clock.
The lengthy possession was capped with a four-yard rushing touchdown from Venn, which tied the game at 21 with 11:54 to go in the fourth quarter.
In similar fashion, the Wolves began their game-winning drive on their own 20 with 7:00 left in regulation.
After converting a third down earlier in the possesion, the Wolves were forced into a fourth-and-6 on their own 36. They lined up in punt formation, but took a gusty gamble by running -- and executing -- a fake punt pass that picked up seven yards with three minutes left to play.
Buford continued to chip away through the ground game, marching down the field and eventually setting up on the Trojan 11 before bleeding the clock out for the final kick.
Carrollton was the first team to light up the scoreboard Friday night. After punting the ball away on their first drive, the Trojans used just one play — a 73-yard run from Todd up the right hash — to score on their second possession.
Carrollton’s defense kept Buford off the board for the first quarter. But, as would become the theme of the night, the Wolves eventually found ways to capitalize on miscues and keep themselves in the game.
The Trojans fumbled the ball deep in their own territory three minutes into the second quarter. On the next play, Buford dialed up a strike that resulted in a 13-yard passing touchdown from junior quarterback Jarvis Evans to senior receiver Julien Lewis in the back left corner of the end zone.
After producing an 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive to retake the lead, Carrollton forced Buford into a fourth-and-2 on its own 28. The Wolves went for it, handing the ball off to Venn and allowing him to expose busted coverage on the left side of the field as he sprinted his way to a 72-yard, game-tying touchdown.
“We made too many mistakes. Turnovers, penalties, busted assignments. And you know what? You’re not going to win a game like that, and that’s my fault. That’s not the kids’ fault,” Calhoun said. “For them to give the effort that they give every single play, every day out there, that’s not their fault. I’ve got to do better.”