Before Friday night's home game against LaGrange, Cartersville head coach Joey King spoke to his team about playing unselfish football. The Canes' performance indicated they took the words to heart.
"I challenged the guys before the game," King said. "I said good, unselfish teams do three things: block on the perimeter extremely well, play really hard on special teams and they get all 11 hats to the ball on defense. It's just unselfish play and that's what our guys did tonight."
Another characteristic of a group that puts "we" before "me" is not worrying about who is making the plays, just so long as the plays are being made. Cartersville's skill-position players showcased that philosophy perfectly Friday.
Eight different Canes had at least 20 receiving yards and quarterback Tee Webb had five touchdown passes to five unique targets in a 45-7 victory at Weinman Stadium.
After a tough test in its Region 5-AAAA opener at Cedartown, Cartersville (7-0, 3-0) has cruised the past two weeks. While Webb should get a lot of credit for this solid showing, as the junior completed 26-of-36 passes for 337 yards, his playmakers lived up to the moniker.
King thinks the passing game's success the past few weeks has been a result of embracing the number of weapons at the team's disposal. But maybe the more important aspect has been their attitude.
"They're challenging each other," King said. "We played a pretty crappy game against Cedartown a couple of weeks back. We really challenged those guys and rolled a lot of guys in there. Competition has bred success amongst that group.
"The fun thing about it is they're encouraging each other. They're not jealous of who's getting touches or who's on the field. They're encouraging each other, which is what a good team does."
Some players wouldn't respond positively to having their role diminished in the name of spreading the ball around, but the Canes have showed a willingness to work hard for their teammates.
Nobody has proven this more, perhaps, than senior tight end Jackson Lowe. A highly sought-after recruit committed to Tennessee, Lowe has made a huge impact with his downfield blocking. Friday night, he was rewarded with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Lowe was far from the only one to put up that sort of statline.
Devonte Ross had three receptions for 39 yards, including a beautifully thrown 27-yard touchdown. Kaleb Chatmon opened the game with a 46-yard kickoff return and capped the drive with a 7-yard score — part of his four-catch, 32-yard showing.
Defensive standouts Marquail Coaxum and Marko Dudley scored on their only offensive touches of the night. Coaxum scored on a nice 34-yard catch-and-run, during which he broke several tackles. Dudley capped the Canes' final drive of the first half with a 12-yard touchdown catch — complete with a vicious stiff-arm near the goal line.
Though they didn't find the end zone, Dadrian Dennis and Amari Orr made some big receptions for Cartersville. Dennis had four for 35 yards, including two catches to give the Canes goal-to-go situations. Orr, meanwhile, snagged two balls, totaling 44 yards in the first half.
Marcus Gary had the lone rushing touchdown of the evening. The senior went from the left-hash mark across virtually the entire field and into the right corner for an 8-yard score. Overall, Gary rushed for 61 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards in his return from injury. Backup running back Quante Jennings posted 104 total yards (58 receiving, 50 rushing).
In the first half, Webb seemed content to take what the defense gave him, choosing to tuck and run out of bounds on a few passing plays. It made sense, because patience was something King spoke about in the lead up to the game as a key against a LaGrange defense that came in giving up an average of 10 points per game.
That seemed to fly out the window when Cartersville started the second half with a sizable 31-0 lead. Following a punt by the Grangers (1-5, 0-3) on their opening possession of the third quarter, Webb threw an interception to Vondez Taylor, who toe-tapped down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown return.
On his very next pass attempt, Webb threw a ball into coverage and Taylor nearly came down with another pick. However, Taylor couldn't hang on after landing hard on the ground. Webb seemed to readjust at that point, going 8-of-11 for 124 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way.
"I thought he did a really good job," King said of Webb. "We might have lost focus a little bit right there at the start of the second half. I thought he pulled it back together and finished the game good. But, overall, I was really proud of his performance."
The pick-6 proved to be the only blemish for the Canes on the evening. It's the sixth time this season Cartersville has held an opponent to 10 points or less and fourth contest holding its foe without an offensive touchdown.
"I was definitely pleased," King said of his defense. "Our defense, they play hard week in and week out. They rally to the ball. We knew they had been struggling a little bit offensively, still trying to find an identity. Our defense is going to be up for the challenge."
That defense will be tested next week when Cartersville heads to Sandy Creek. The Patriots won a huge road game at Chapel Hill on Friday to take the inside track towards a top-three spot in the region.
The Canes will need to make sure they're ready for a battle in Tyrone, and King seems to think his team will be.
"We're definitely in a good spot," he said. "We've just got to focus on the next task at hand. Sandy Creek is going to be a big challenge, going down there to play. I talked to coach [Brett] Garvin a little bit [Thursday] and tried to trick him into coming back up here. But we've got to go down there and play at The Battlefield. That's not an easy place to go in and upset those guys. We've got our work cut out for us. We're going to enjoy this win a little bit, and then get to work on those guys as soon as we can."