On Sept. 21, Adairsville suffered the type of heartbreaking loss that can torpedo a season into the ground. A week later, the Tigers gutted out the type of win that can catapult a team towards the playoffs.
A lot of people would question whether a team, any team really, could respond positively after losing on the final play of a game the way Adairsville fell to North Murray, 27-23.
Tigers head coach Eric Bishop is not one of those people. He knew his players would answer the call on the road at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
"I really was not concerned about them bouncing back," Bishop said earlier this week. "I thought they had handled our Saturday film session and last week's practices real well. We kind of challenged them all week, we challenged them Friday night before the game and at halftime. At that point, neither team had really taken control.“
Adairsville (3-3, 2-2 Region 6-AAA) finally wrestled the momentum completely onto the Tigers’ sideline during the final minutes of the game.
A huge turnover helped Bishop’s crew grind out a 13-12 win. The game ended again on a score for the Tigers’ opponent, but this one didn’t matter with the final play a designed safety to avoid having to punt to the Warriors.
Even though Bishop avoided using his special teams unit on that final snap, opting instead to put the ball in the hands of senior Mason Boswell to run out the clock, the sixth-year head coach said the all-important third phase of the game proved to be the deciding factor. He particularly praised the work of kicker Emanuel Lopez, who has stepped up following a knee injury to Chris Rodriguez.
"I think the real difference maker was on special teams," Bishop said. "Special teams is something we weren't real good at in Game 1 and Game 2 this season. We've constantly put a lot of emphasis on it. We've focused on getting better in special teams, and I think it's proved to be one of the factors — if not the deciding factor — in the game."
Adairsville will have to be just as good, if not better, on special teams to have a chance to win this week against Calhoun (5-0, 3-0). Frankly, the Tigers will likely have to be perfectly in every aspect just to hang with the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A.
If the Tigers do spring the upset over its geographic rival, they will be snapping plenty of streaks in the process.
Calhoun has not lost to Adairsville in 13 tries with the Yellow Jackets’ most recent defeat in the series coming in 1998. Calhoun is also riding an overall 17-game winning streak — third-longest in school history — dating back to last year’s blowout loss to Cartersville. To top it off, the Jackets haven’t lost a region contest since a 2001 defeat to Darlington.
Needless to say, Bishop knows his team faces a tall task in beating the Jackets when they visit tonight, because he knows Calhoun won’t beat itself.
"The fact that Calhoun is so disciplined and well-coached in all three phases of the game," Bishop said. "[As an opponent,] sometimes that's a good thing, because you know exactly where they're going to be and exactly what they're going to do. On the other hand, they don't have mental mistakes or breakdowns in coverage."
Among several other factors, including standouts like quarterback Gavin Gray and Clemson commit Davis Allen, the sheer amount of depth on Calhoun’s roster is a key to the program’s sustained success. It allows them to wear teams down, especially at the Class 3A level, with most players needing to play on just one side of the ball and major rotation among skill positions.
"The fact that they have so much depth makes them so difficult to play against," Bishop said. "I think we have on our personnel sheet, they've played some outrageous number like 17 or 18 different receivers. They've got so much depth. ... It wears on you, especially in the second half of a game."
With history and present form on Calhoun’s side, Adairsville would do well just to hang with the Jackets into halftime.
A victory would, obviously, be an incredible boost to the Tigers’ postseason aspirations. However, it’s more likely tonight turns into merely an opportunity for Bishop to see how his team truly stacks up against the best the state has to offer.
"We've definitely got our hands full, no doubt about it," Bishop said. "It will be a great measuring stick for us. We talk about [how] we want to be in the playoffs, and we want to be a playoff-caliber team. This will be a great measuring stick for where this team is at and where we need to go and get better to be that playoff-caliber team that we all want to be."