Last year, the Cass football season ended with a frustrating loss to Paulding County by a final score of 17-14. It represented the Colonels’ ninth consecutive loss to end the year.
This season has gone much better, and Friday’s rematch gives Cass a chance to end 2019 on a much better note. A victory would give a dedicated senior class a fitting send off for their hard work in leading the Colonels to their best season since 2016.
“It was a very tight ballgame last year,” Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said. “We’re hoping to keep it close and put ourselves in that exact same situation.
“I want it for our seniors, and our seniors want it because they want to keep us moving in the right direction. We’ve made a lot of growth this year, and we’ve got to continue that Friday night.”
In a lot of ways the two programs have been incredibly similar the past couple of seasons. Last year, both finished 1-9 overall. This time around, they each enter with identical records of 3-6 overall and 2-5 in Region 7-AAAAA.
How they’ve achieved those marks is starkly different.
“Paulding is similar to us record-wise, but totally different in style of play,” Hughes said. “They’re more up-tempo and throwing it around. They have a really talented running back/linebacker [Smael Mondon] who has several big offers. He’s a very good player. The quarterback [Hunter Jennings] does a good job of getting the ball out of his hands. They’ve got three really dynamic wideouts, two of them are returning guys who have been starting since they were sophomores.
“They do a good job in the quick passing game. It makes it difficult to get pressure on them, because they get rid of it so quick. You have do so some things coverage-wise to mix it up a little bit. We’ve got our work cut out for us there.”
Mondon projects as an outside linebacker at the next level. The junior is ranked 32nd overall in the Class of 2021 by 247Sports’ Composite ranking. He’s also tabbed as the third-best OLB in the country and third-best player overall in Georgia for his recruiting class.
His presence on defense hasn’t kept Paulding’s opponents from racking up points this season. The Patriots, who run a 3-4 defense, have allowed 323 points, while scoring 241. For comparison, Cass has given up 249 and scored 106.
“They have struggled at times this year with certain styles,” Hughes said. “We’re not as explosive offensively as some of the teams that gave them trouble. But there’s some things we have spent time working on that we hope will put us in position to take advantage of a few things.”
While the Colonels likely won’t pile up points like some of the Patriots’ recent foes, there’s reason to believe Cass can find the end zone a few times. Paulding County has allowed at least 13 points in every game, including no fewer than 31 in each of their past five outings.
Cass will also have the added bonus of having an open date last week. Sometimes, the timing of the bye week doesn’t help much from a game-planning perspective. But entering the final game of the season, the Colonels had no reason not to get ready for Friday's meeting as early as possible.
“We had plenty of film on Paulding, so we were able to get a jumpstart on prep,” Hughes said. “The kids have been pretty loose. It’s really good that they’re loose, because you don’t want them thinking it doesn’t matter. We had a guest speaker come in and talk to them [Wednesday]. That was really inspirational, so we’ve had a good week of getting ready.”
After all that time getting ready, Hughes still believes the deciding factors in the game will be pretty straight forward in a matchup of such contrasting styles.
“We’ve got to keep them off the field as much as we can,” Hughes said. “It’s kind of cliche, but it’s really true with what they do: We have to find a way to limit big plays and make them keep snapping it. Offensively, we can’t make some of the key mistakes with the football that we’ve made the past few weeks.
“It sounds simple, and it really is when you get down to the bare bones of it.”
If Cass is able to execute on both sides of the ball, the Colonels could close the year with a victory to boost morale heading into the offseason. Then again, the program has had a remarkable amount of success this season despite ending 2018 on a long losing run.
It goes to show that every team gets a chance to leave a legacy. This year’s bunch, led by its senior class, did everything in its power to create a great one, while also providing the younger players the tools needed to further build upon what happened this season.
“This is a small senior class, there’s only 13 of them,” Hughes said. “They’ve shown this big junior class how to do some things differently. They’ve also shown us some areas where we haven’t closed the gap like we need to. The biggest thing is that they’re handing the baton to the junior class better than it was the year before. They need to understand that their job is to make it better than it was this year.”