To this point, the schedule has been quite kind to Cartersville. The rest of the way, though, will be playoff prep for the Canes.
Having played six of its seven games thus far at home, Cartersville will be forced to play two of its final three games away from cozy Weinman Stadium. Those games come against arguably the third- and fourth-best teams in Region 5-AAAA.
And that lone remaining home game? It just so happens to be against Troup County — the top threat to Cartersville’s stranglehold on the region title.
While all eyes will be tuned to that matchup on the final week of the regular season, especially if both teams remain undefeated, the Canes have business to take care of first.
This week, that entails a potentially tricky trip to Sandy Creek. The Patriots (4-2, 1-1) bounced back from a loss to Troup in their region opener to beat Chapel Hill, 26-14, on the road.
“[Sandy Creek head coach Brett] Garvin has that group fired up, they’re playing hard, they have a lot of pieces of the puzzle that are really, really good,” Cartersville head coach Joey King said. “They probably have the best secondary we’ve seen all year. From an offensive standpoint, their receiving corps, as a whole, will probably be the best receiving group we’ve seen all year. They have two quarterbacks who can run it, throw it and make good decisions. They have a running back who is a really, really good football player.
“It’s going to be a challenge in the fact that we have to go down there to play. That’s not an easy place to go and play, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Needless to say, Friday’s contest will be a step up in competition for Cartersville after easily dispatching Central-Carroll (45-10) and LaGrange (45-7) in back-to-back home games.
Cartersville’s lone road game of the season, to date, came just before those two in a narrow 21-20 win at Cedartown. King, though, doesn’t believe the Canes’ struggles from that night will have any impact this time around.
“Once it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” King said. “We don’t really count all those other factors into it. Once that ball is teed up and ready to be kicked, our guys are going to be ready to go — whether we’re home or away. We like to play in front of our home crowd. We believe our place is a really, really special place to play. As far as a different mindset for the kids, I don’t think they buy into all of that.”
What they had better buy into is how talented Sandy Creek appears to be. Offensively, the Patriots will look to present a plethora of problems for the Canes.
“They do whatever they want to do,” King said, noting the weapons Sandy Creek has on offense. “They throw the ball, they spread it out, they run the ball, they run the quarterback, they throw quick screens, [and] they do some misdirection quarterback run stuff. They do a lot of different stuff.
“You can tell they have an identity on offense. They know what they want to do. They have a game plan. They play fast. They play physical. They have the ability to house it on every given play.”
While the matchup between a multi-faceted Sandy Creek offense and a well-balanced Cartersville defense should be intriguing, the biggest battle will be between the Patriots secondary and the Canes passing attack.
With Stanford commit Nicolas Toomer in the secondary, Sandy Creek boasts one of the top 100 players in the state for the Class of 2019. Given Cartersville’s propensity for attacking teams through the air, it will be interesting to see if the Canes try to avoid throwing in Toomer's direction.
Then again, he’s far from the only talented player for the Patriots on that side of the ball.
“Sandy Creek has been 4-3, Cover-2 for a really long time and done a really good job of it,” King said. “They try to keep you in front of them and not let you get behind them. They rally to the ball and tackle extremely well. They have athletes all over the field.”
Overall, Friday looks set to be Cartersville’s toughest task since facing Class 6A Allatoona, No. 10 in the latest GSWA football poll, to begin the season.
King said his players are embracing the chance to face three playoff-caliber teams down the stretch. For one thing, it will get his players used to a postseason atmosphere.
The hope is that his young team has gotten enough experience through these first seven games to keep nerves from playing a factor.
“They feel good, but they understand the challenge that is at hand,” King said. “This week is a big challenge, and the other two after that are going to be a big challenge. We’re trying to focus on them one at a time.
“We’ve got some guys who are gaining a little bit of confidence. We’ve got a young team and some of those young guys are starting to become more seasoned as the year progresses. It’s exciting to see, but we’re just focused on this ballgame against Sandy Creek. It’s a huge game for us. On top of that, I hope our crowd travels well. I know it’s not a quick road trip, but we definitely need the support there in the stands.”