The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes are, they hope, two-thirds of the way through with the season, and the most important stretch starts right now.
“It’s right where we want to be,” head coach Joey King said. “We won the first of two championships that we want to win, we’re going for the second one now, and the way you do it is focus on one at a time.”
The Canes will open the Class 4A state playoffs at home Friday against Pickens.
The first championship King referenced is the Region 7-AAAA championship, won last Friday in a 52-13 rout of Troup County.
The second is just a little more prestigious — their third-straight state championship.
“We get out there and I always remind the kids that there’s 32 teams left, at this point in time next week, there’ll be 16,” King said. “And then next week I’ll say there’s 16 teams left, at this point in time next week there’ll be eight. So I kind of echo that as the team goes, until there’s one left standing.”
Cartersville, after 40 consecutive wins and back-to-back state titles, is widely considered the overwhelming favorite to repeat, not that the Canes will be overlooking the 5-5 Dragons.
Pickens and Cartersville are old region foes, and the Canes beat the Dragons in Game 10 to clinch a region championship in both 2014 and 2015.
This year, Pickens played its way into the playoffs after a three-way tie for third place in Region 6-AAAA led to a weird situation.
To settle the matter, Pickens, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield played 10-minute minigames on Monday to decide which two would go to the playoffs. After losing 7-6 to Northwest Whitfield, the Dragons blanked Southeast 7-0 to book their ticket.
The delay in knowing who they would play in the first round took a little toll on the Cartersville coaching staff.
“It’s definitely weird,” King said Tuesday. “Now, we’re looking at trying to cram 72 hours into 24 and that’s kind of tough to do. That’s almost impossible, so we’re a little bit behind preparing, but we’ve been working. We’re going to have a late night tonight and get finished up and ready for tomorrow.”
The Pickens Dragons will provide a little bit of a unique problem.
With 6-foot-6 senior quarterback Jacob Brumby, Pickens can really be dangerous in the passing game.
“[Brumby] throws a really good ball, makes good decisions,” King said. “They’ve got a couple of receivers that can go catch it and they’ve got decent size. ... They’re in a lot of empty sets, and sometimes have no backs in there and they can hurt you if you allow them to, but I think we’ve just got to be focused on being sound, lined up in the right places and doing our job.”
Brumby threw for 2,272 yards and 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions in the regular season. His top target is Zach Goss Jr., one of the top receivers in the state with 40 catches for 805 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Junior running back Robert Davis handled the rushing duties, with 107 carries for 1,168 yards and 13 touchdowns.
None of that is likely to be much help against Cartersville, which has scored 50 or more points in five straight games.
But to keep their goal of a state championship in sight, the Canes will have to get through this game, which means they’re not taking anything for granted.
“Our focus has to intensify, our effort has to continue to crank up, and hopefully we can make a run at this thing,” King said.