Cass’ 4th-ranked defense welcomes No. 4 team in 5A

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For the third time in the last five seasons, the Cass High football team is 3-1 entering its fourth game of the season.

The Colonels are off to a good start, but if they want to move to 4-1 and really make waves in Region 7-AAAAA, they will have to do it against one of the classification’s best as the Kell Longhorns step into Doug Cochran Stadium Friday night.

Kell is ranked fourth in Class 5A in all of the major state rankings.

“They’re a fine football team,” Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said of Kell. “We have a lot of respect for them. They’re not ranked No. 4 in the state by accident. They’re a good football team and they’re extremely well-coached.”

While Cass will be lining up against a region title and, possibly, state title contender Friday, Hughes believes his players are prepared to take on the challenge. The Cass defense has been as stout as ever through the first four games so far this season, ranking fourth in Class 5A in points allowed with an average of 11.75 points against per contest.

The Colonels have been led by junior middle linebacker Tripp Breeden’s 34 tackles, nine for loss, 1.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a fumbled return for a touchdown. Senior Chance Scrutchins, meanwhile, has 16 tackles, seven for loss, 3.5 sacks, a fumble forced and a fumble recovered.

“The kids are excited. They understand what a big game for us it is,” Hughes said. “It’s not a make or break game for us, but it’s an exciting game with a great opportunity.”

Kell began its program in 2003, but the Marietta football program especially began to win big in 2010. In the last six seasons, Kell has averaged over 10 wins per year, including a trip to the Class 5A state semifinals in 2013.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the Longhorns and Colonels.

Kell is 3-1 this year with an impressive win over traditional power Tucker in the season’s opener. Kell won a close game at home against Rome, which is another contender for the region title this season, and defeated Paulding County by a score of 35-7 to move to 2-0 in Region 7-AAAAA. The Longhorns’ one loss came at the hands of Lassiter, the No. 6-ranked team in Class 7A.

As can be expected with the No. 4 team in Class 5A, Kell is not short on talent. The most highly recruited of its top players is senior linebacker Solon Page III, a three-star Tennessee commit and a top-100 recruit in Georgia. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Page leads his team with 51 total tackles and eight tackles for loss through four games.

Jamontae Holt, like Page, is a long and tall tackling machine at linebacker. In the secondary, Jared Hill is a 6-footer who is averaging nearly 10 tackles per game to go along with his two interceptions.

“They’re in a base 4-3,” Hughes said of Kell’s defense. “They’re mostly two-high safeties. ... Their safeties are very active. They can run.”

Kell also has an impressive sack total, considering the level of competition the team has faced so far this year. The Longhorns have tallied 14 sacks, led by 5-foot-7 defensive tackle Ismail Dabdoub with four.

Sophomore Justin Talley and senior Kendall Bailey are between 6-feet and 6-4 ends, who each have three sacks so far this year.

“They do [bring a lot of pressure], but they do it mostly with their front four,” Hughes said. “So we just have to be smart of how we attack and when we do it.”

Offensively, Kell lines up in a two-back set and hands off to 6-foot junior Josiah Futral and 215-pound junior Dre Houston. The pair has averaged over 95 yards rushing per game.

The Longhorns have had a 122-80 run-pass split so far this year, and senior John Lampley does the throwing when they decide to air it out. He is 44-of-80 passing for 522 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions this season.

“They’re just extremely solid. They do everything well,” Hughes said. “They don’t have a glaring deficiency, nor do they have something where you say, ‘If this doesn’t work, they’re in trouble.’ They’re just very, very balanced.”

One way the Colonels can keep Kell’s offense in check is by controlling the ball and the clock. Running back Derrick Maxwell and the Cass offensive line did just that in a win over Hiram last week as Maxwell went for 159 yards on 32 carries.

“Controlling the ball and the clock, running the football,” Hughes said of what his team did well against Hiram. “The guys up front are doing a good job. [Quarterback Brett Gaddy] is limiting mistakes, which is putting us in a position to play. We’re taking care of the ball pretty well. Those things are good. The defense is doing a pretty good job of being bend, but don’t break.”

As far as how Cass matches up with the No. 4 team in the state, Hughes believes his team will be just fine if the Colonels can eliminate mistakes.

“We have to play much, much, much more intelligently than we played last week,” he said. “We can’t have the mental mistakes and breakdowns. We have to play our game and we have to be sound in the things that we do. We can’t make a lot of mistakes.”