This fall, the Cass football team will face all three of its Bartow County rivals in the same season for the first time since 2003.
After facing both Adairsville and Woodland the past four seasons, Cass will add Cartersville to its 2020 slate, marking the programs' first meeting since 2015. The Colonels, Canes and Wildcats are all set to be part of a revamped Region 7-AAAAA that will debut next fall.
Since that 2003 campaign, Cass has faced two of its three county foes every year except from 2010-11, when the Colonels only faced the Wildcats. in 2003, Cass hosted Woodland and traveled to the other two schools. This time around, it will be the exact opposite.
The Colonels will host Adairsville in Week 2. Cass will later face Cartersville at home and Woodland on the road in consecutive weeks to kick off the region schedule. The matchup with the Class 3A Tigers was the only one of the three that wasn't a mandated game.
"That's one I always like to keep, because it's such a competitive game every year," Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said of playing Adairsville. "Eric [Bishop] and his group do such a good job of coaching them up and being physical. We just look forward to playing that game."
While many people will focus on the Cartersville game, Cass will have a wildly different schedule this season compared to the previous cycle, facing just three of the 10 teams it saw in 2019. Firstly, the region went from nine teams down to six, upping the team's number of non-region matchups from two to five.
The Colonels will play their first three contests in consecutive weeks at Doug Cochran Stadium. Cass will host Pepperell in a scrimmage Aug. 14, welcome 3A Dawson County for the season opener a week later and close out the stretch with Adairsville.
On Sept. 4, the Colonels will hit the road for the first time to face 6A Sequoyah before returning home against 2A Temple. Cass is set to close out its non-region slate Sept. 18 at 4A Ridgeland.
Overall, four of the five foes made the state playoffs in 2019, with Sequoyah being the lone exception. The five programs combined to win 29 games, with each winning at least five.
"We still scheduled some really tough opponents," Hughes said. "... I want to be competitive and give our kids a chance to get better by playing good people. You want to play someone you're competitive with but also prepare yourself for region play. There's that fine line."
The challenging, yet manageable non-region schedule should help Cass get up to speed ahead of region play. One of the many downsides to a nine-team region is having just two non-region games to get prepared for the rigors of an eight-game league slate.
"You take us for example this particular year, we have a lot coming back on defense and a decent amount coming back on offense, but you're going to be breaking in a new quarterback," Hughes said, referring to this coming fall. "It would be very, very frustrating to try to break one in with one or two non-region games before you jump into the meat of what we're going to see.
"From that perspective, it's really good."
Another aspect of the schedule Hughes is pleased with is having an open date directly between the end of the non-region schedule and the beginning of region play. Cass had taken the first week off the past several years, but with an opening the final week of the regular season this time around, Hughes needed to switch things up.
"That's what took me so long," he said. "I fought so hard to make sure I could do that, because playing 10 straight would make for a tough stretch."
Immediately following the first bye week are the back-to-back local games against Cartersville and at Woodland. On Oct. 16, Cass visits Hiram — the only other region holdover besides the Colonels and Wildcats. Cass closes with a tough two-game stretch, hosting Calhoun and visiting Blessed Trinity.
While the Colonels certainly have better odds of making the playoffs in this smaller league, Cass definitely went from one top-heavy region to another. Blessed Trinity just won its third consecutive Class 4A state title; Cartersville won back-to-back 4A championships from 2015-16; and Calhoun took home 3A crowns in 2014 and 2017.
"You go from three heavy hitters of Rome, Kell and Carrollton to Calhoun, Cartersville and Blessed Trinity," Hughes said.
That being said, the Colonels won't complain whatsoever about their drastically different schedule moving forward. The renewal of the Cartersville rivalry game, plus the overall positive change in travel created by the new region schedule should lead to a substantial windfall at the gate for Cass.
"There is absolutely no doubt," Hughes said of the financial benefits of the new region. "Look at our schedule, we are blessed. We have Calhoun and Cartersville at home the first year. You turn around the next year, and you'll have Woodland at home.
"It's going to be a big difference. It can't be what drives the engine, but it's vitally important. You need revenue to run your program, and football helps other programs in the school."