THERE'S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR — The Cartersville football program is in the early stages of recovering from a painful postseason exit. Friday's 31-28 loss to Woodward Academy won't be easy for players, coaches and fans to get over.
But when those in and around the Canes program finally turn their attention to next season, they should be encouraged by the collection of talent that will be returning. There's a strong possibility that Cartersville is back competing for championships — region and state — in 2020.
The Canes have a deep and talented junior class that should be hungry as seniors to go out on top. At the moment, the group is the first since the Class of 2015 to not win a state title during their high school career. They will certainly want to change that, and they will absolutely have the players to get it done.
Injuries ravaged Cartersville throughout the season, but the silver lining was that it allowed younger players to gain valuable varsity experience.
The team's top five running backs will all be back next year. Quante Jennings, Harrison Allen and Evan Slocum highlight the group. Slocum will also likely see some time at wide receiver, along with returnees Devonte Ross, Sam Phillips, Kyler Johnson and Kolbe Benham. Tight end Nasir Grandberry is just sophomore.
Along the defensive line, Jesse Grogan and Emmanuel Hayes will return. The linebacking corps will retain Allen, Gavin Geros and Jaylon Akins. Slocum and Ross will retain their starting roles in the secondary, while Amarai Orr could be moved around to play anywhere throughout the defense.
Both specialists, kicker Oscar Hernandez and punter Andrew Elizalde are juniors and likely to return.
There will still be plenty of holes to fill. Most importantly, quarterback Tee Webb will be graduating, and the success of Stratton Tripp will be a huge determining factor in Cartersville's level of play next season. The junior looked good in limited time this year.
Tripp will be playing along a fairly inexperienced line, as seniors Jonah Gambill, Matthew Surrett and Blake Woods will depart. Hayden Cagle and Devin Luckett will return, as will a few younger players who saw intermittent snaps.
La'Kwayme Jupiter will leave a massive void along the defensive line. An absolute beast at nose tackle, Jupiter was arguably the single most influential player on the Canes defense.
Defensive lineman Omari Bailey and linebacker Jadon Martin, who both really came on strong their senior seasons, will also be missed.
Cornerback Marquail Coaxum and safety Marko Dudley are replaceable, insomuch as the team has experienced players ready to become full-time starters in Phillips and Benham.
All things considered, if Tripp meets expectations and the offensive line comes together, Cartersville will still be among the elite teams next fall. However, things will only get together in regards to winning championships, as the Canes move up to Class 5A.
Cartersville's streak of eight consecutive region titles will definitely be in jeopardy. The Canes' new region assignment — Region 7-AAAAA — will include two-time defending 4A state champion Blessed Trinity, Calhoun, Cass, Hiram and Woodland.
Outside of the region, Cartersville could potentially face the likes of Region 1-AAAAA's Coffee, Veterans, Ware County, Warner Robins and Wayne County, as well as teams like Dutchtown, Jones County, Starr's Mill, and Woodward.
So while the future still appears bright for the Canes, between the graduates and the new alignment, it definitely won't be an easy task to win titles moving forward.
DECIDING FACTOR — Cartersville's loss to Woodward Friday night deprived fans of a third straight playoff meeting between the Canes and Blessed Trinity. Instead, the teams will have to wait until next fall to be reunited in the new Region 7-AAAAA.
Even still, the quarterfinal result did set up a different kind of rematch, as Woodward handed Blessed Trinity its only loss of the season back in September.
While beating the Titans during the regular season will give the War Eagles plenty of confidence in that game, Woodward should also take solace in knowing that beating Cartersville is also a good omen for its championship aspirations. That's because the Canes have either won the state title or lost to the eventual champion in six of the past seven years.
Cartersville started its recent historic run of eight straight region titles in 2012. That year, the team lost in the semifinals to Buford, who went on to win it all. After falling to non-champion St. Pius X in 2013, history repeated itself in 2014, as the Canes fell to the Wolves in the Final Four.
Of course, Cartersville went on to win the state title each of the next two seasons. Blessed Trinity has captured the past two championships, having knocked off the Canes in the second round in 2017 and in the finals last year.
BRACKET UPDATE — With the last local team being eliminated from the state playoffs, this will be the final look at the GHSA brackets. That being said, here’s a look at the semifinal matchups in each classification:
7A — Marietta at Parkview; North Gwinnett at Lowndes
6A — Harrison at Dacula; Allatoona at Richmond Hill
5A — Buford at Jones County; Starr's Mill at Warner Robins
4A — Blessed Trinity at Woodward Academy; Sandy Creek at Oconee County
3A — Greater Atlanta Christian at Cedar Grove; Jenkins at Crisp County
2A — Brooks County at Callaway; Dublin at Thomasville
1A Public — Clinch County at Irwin County; Pelham at Marion County
1A Private — Wesleyan at Fellowship Christian; Eagle's Landing Christian at Holy Innocents'
Among semi-local teams, only Allatoona remains standing after shutting out Coffee 24-0 Friday at home. Fellow Cobb County-based teams Harrison and Marietta also moved on to the Final Four, defeating Houston County and Mill Creek, respectively.
Among region opponents of local teams, Buford won a thriller against Region 7-AAAAA champion Carrollton, converting a short field goal as time expired. Region 6-AAA winner North Murray also bowed out in the quarterfinals, falling 41-14 to Jenkins. Region 5-AAAA runner-up Sandy Creek defeated its second consecutive No. 4 seed in an easy win over Madison County to move on to the semifinals.