On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a story with the headline, “Is Cartersville the state’s top team regardless of class?”
After convincingly defeating two top-three ranked teams in their respective classifications in Allatoona and Calhoun in consecutive weeks, and after a 15-0 state championship season a year ago, many around the state have turned their attention to the Purple Hurricanes.
Now that the question has been posed, the Canes will have a chance to prove they belong among the state’s best in the highest classification with a game against a talented Class 7A Westlake squad tonight at Weinman Stadium.
“We try not to pay attention to it, to be honest with you,” Cartersville head coach Joey King said of the statewide attention. “Westlake is our concern this week. Everybody has their opinion about a lot of different stuff. Opinions don’t help us win ballgames on Friday night, so I don’t pay attention to a lot of that mess.”
Westlake was ranked No. 7 in the preseason and is currently ranked 15th in Class 7A according to the Maxwell computer rankings, and 18th according to MaxPreps. The Lions are 1-1 under first-year head coach Kareem Reid, with a 10-9 loss coming in their first game to Langston Hughes in which the game was stopped in the third quarter due to a fight in the stands and lightning. Westlake bounced back to beat Shiloh at home by a score of 29-13.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Canes and the Atlanta school, which began its program in 1988. Since its inception, Westlake has made it as far as the Class 3A quarterfinals in 1999, and the Class 6A quarters a year ago.
Westlake, now in 7A, has reached the state playoffs the last three seasons and made the Elite 8 in 2015 with a 10-3 record. The Lions lost by seven points to Grayson in the quarters.
In its relatively short history, Westlake has made a habit of churning out NFL talent. Nine players have made the NFL from Westlake since 2001, including 2015 Pro Bowl cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton.
This year’s Westlake team is loaded with future major college talent, including Clemson commit A.J. Terrell, who will be a cornerback in college, but also plays receiver for the Lions. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Terrell is a four-star prospect and is the No. 7 prospect in Georgia and 72nd in the country, according to 247 Sports. Rivals has Terrell as a five-star prospect and the No. 8 overall prospect in the Class of 2017. He will play some quarterback in the wildcat formation, and had a touchdown rushing and receiving in Westlake’s game against Shiloh.
Many of the team’s top prospects play on the defensive side of the ball for the Lions. Jaden Hunter is a 6-3, 223-pound senior linebacker and is committed to Georgia. He is a four-star recruit and is ranked as the 14th-best prospect in the state, 135th in the country, according to 247 Sports.
“Offensively, they have some weapons and they do a good job, but defensively, they’re going to be in ballgames because they have so many athletes on defense,” King said.
The secondary will start three other Division I prospects next to Terrell, including senior safety Chris Bacon, 3-star senior cornerback Tre Person and 4-star junior safety Myles Sims. Sims is the No. 207 prospect in the country and 16th in Georgia in the Class of 2018, according to 247.
Westlake also has a couple of fast outside linebackers in Phillip Thomas and Devlin Olawumi, and a big middle linebacker in 6-2, 230-pound Daquan Walker.
“They have a ton of athletes. They have four Division-I guys in their secondary,” King said. “They have a major Division I-guy coming off the edge, Hunter. They’re playing him more at defensive end this year in the four-man front. When they go three-man front, they play him back at linebacker. They probably do more four-man than three-man. They have a good-looking defensive line.”
Offensively, Westlake runs the spread and has a fast 5-foot-8 quarterback, Ravaughn Burch, who threw two touchdowns against Shiloh.
“[Burch] does a good job. He throws good, catchable balls. He turns around and can keep plays alive with his feet,” King said. “Corner is what [Terrell] is known for, but he’s a really, really good receiver. They put him in the wildcat. He can probably punt, snap, catch kicks. He can do whatever you ask him to do. He’s just that caliber of an athlete.”
In the running game, Devin Edwards is a quick, shifty back who will carry the ball behind a big offensive line with three players who are listed at 6-foot-3, and at least 270 pounds.
“They’re really, really fast—really, really dangerous. They can score on any play,” King said of the Lions’ offense. “They mix it up. They like to throw the deep ball, the quick game. They run inside and outside zone and they get in the wildcat some. They have an arsenal of people to choose from.
“I’ve been saying for three years in a row we have our work cut out for us and we do every week, but especially this week because they’re so talented.”
Because Westlake is one of the few teams Cartersville will play that can match the Canes’ athleticism, King believes his team will have to be disciplined and sound on both sides of the ball to have success.
“They have so many athletes on the field. I’m not talking just about normal athletes. They have some high-profile guys that are out there running around. So that’ll be a challenge,” King said. “Against a team as athletic as they are, you have to make sure you’re exactly where you are supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, that your technique is great and that we do what we’re coached to do.
“You have to play solid in all three phases of the game. You have to be consistent. You’re not going to cut the tree down in one whack. You have to keep chopping and do things the right way, and hopefully, it’ll pay off for us by the end of the game, but it’s not going to come easy.”
Cartersville may be meeting their athletic match tonight at Weinman, but the Canes are coming off an impressive 56-0 win last week at Calhoun and are confident heading into Friday’s game. The Cartersville defense allowed just 72 yards to Calhoun and have forced five turnovers in the first two games. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has already thrown for over 600 yards and six touchdowns with a 60.3 completion percentage. He has spread the ball to several different targets as six different players are averaging over 40 yards receiving per game. Running back Trey Creamer, meanwhile, has five touchdowns in just 16 touches.
“Trevor and the guys catching the ball did a good job. Our run game was effective, which, when we needed it, helped our passing game out,” King said of his team’s performance against Calhoun. “Trey had six carries for four touchdowns. That’s pretty efficient. So we felt pretty good about that. Defensively, we felt really good about the way our kids played.”
There is always room for improvement, though. Cartersville had seven penalties for 65 yards in losses against Calhoun, including four illegal procedure calls.
“The first two drives of the second half, offensively, we came out and were moving the ball and had a big penalty. And then we’re moving the ball again and had big penalties again,” King said. “So we had to punt the first two possessions of the second half. Mentally, in the locker room, I want our guys coming out thinking we’re 0-0. We need to drive that first one down, punch it in and get everybody out of there. And we weren’t able to do that. But other than that, I thought we played really well.”
King said his players are healthy and humble heading into the game. While Cartersville will be playing its third consecutive preseason-ranked opponent, the combined record of Allatoona and Calhoun this year is now 1-5, albeit against some competitive opponents. As a result, Cartersville is aware it might be in for its toughest test of the nonregion schedule, and is focused on Westlake.
“We do a quick game recap and then we start talking about the next week,” King said. “That 56-0 doesn’t get us anything. It don’t matter if it’s 56-55, a win is a win. We’ll take that, but as soon as it’s over with, we’re working on the next one.”