IN DYER STRAITS — The Cartersville JV team defeated Woodland 55-14 Thursday night.
The next day, Cane fans who were in attendance to watch the Varsity team take down Hapeville Charter at Weinman Stadium saw something the coaches already saw on Thursday—Raschad Dyer can play.
Cartersville has never had a shortage of athletes, and the next one in the pipeline appears to be the precocious freshman Dyer.
He had a 20-yard run on an end around in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game. The play came on a second-and-22 and Dyer displayed speed and elusiveness to bring the Canes within two yards of picking up the first down.
Dominique Williams went seven yards on the next play to keep the chains moving and the clock running. Dyer also had a reception in the game.
In previous weeks, the freshman receiver caught a touchdown from freshman quarterback Tee Webb in Cartersville’s scrimmage against Westminster. He also took two snaps as a wildcat quarterback in the first half against Allatoona.
The last talent to be featured in the wildcat formation was Kobie Whitfield, and the spot seems to be reserved for rare athletes such as he and Dyer under head coach Joey King.
“Raschad is going to be a fun one to watch,” King said. “If he keeps getting bigger and stronger, he’ll be electric for us one day.”
WIDE OF THE MARK — Cartersville junior kicker Jonathan Cruz, the Region 7-AAAA Special Teams Player of the Year last season and the hero of the state championship game, has as big of a leg as one can find at the high school level.
He has sent 21 of his 24 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, and has an average of 39 yards per punt, including six of his 13 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
While Cruz has been kicking the ball deep and far as usual, the field goal unit cannot seem to get its timing down. Cartersville is now 2-for-6 on field goal attempts this year.
One of the misses came from 55 yards out against Allatoona, which would have set a school record. Another came from 47 yards out against Calhoun.
Against Hapeville Charter on Friday, the misses came from 50 and 38 yards out.
Most teams would not even attempt some of those kicks, but the Canes know they will have to capitalize on having a weapon ranked among the best nationally at what he does.
“I don’t know if it’s just timing with our snap and our hold. It’s new guys doing both who didn’t do it last year,” King said. “We have to get that figured out this week.”
STEVE-O — With two touchdowns being the difference in a 48-34 win Friday night against Ringgold at Tiger Stadium, it is impossible to ignore the impact of two kickoff return touchdowns.
Tyler Riley took one to the house from over 80 yards, and Travon Branch returned one for a touchdown on a 95-yard return. Yet another kickoff return from Branch went for around 50 yards to help give the Tigers the field position advantage.
All in all, Adairsville returned five kickoffs for a whopping 264 yards with two touchdowns.
“Special teams [is significant] when you’re struggling and trying to find an identity on offense and defense,” head coach Eric Bishop said. “To have your special teams score two touchdowns and have a third kick return put us in plus-field, that was big.”
“We installed it last week during the open week. We call it ‘Steve-O right’ and ‘Steve-O left’ for the right and left return. It’s just kind of the way you scheme it up and block it,” Bishop said. “What it is, ... Steve Adams is a former defensive line coach at Adairsville, who was an assistant principal a number of years. We’ve been running that kickoff return for like 12 or 13 years. But ever since I’ve been at Adairsville, it was kind of something that he brought to our special teams years ago.”
While the kickoff return scheme may be new to this season’s special teams game plan, it has been working for years.
“We were scoring kickoff return touchdowns 12, 13 years ago, and it ended up giving us two scores and great field position [Friday night] when they kicked it deep to us,” Bishop said. “It was just a way of showing him a little respect in that some things in this game change every three to five years, but that kickoff return has kind of stood the test of time.”
As for the name of the return, that won’t be changing either.
“It’s just giving him due respect. All of the kids know who he is because he was the assistant principal even after his coaching time,” Bishop said of Adams. “But we would call him and ask him [questions]. He would come in after school or whatever and we would ask him what we were doing wrong here or there and he would tell us how to fix it.
“Every year that we’ve run it, we’ve scored touchdowns on it.”
THIS. IS. ADAIRSVILLE. — With an 0-3 start to the season, losing by an average of 35 points per game, it appeared as if the Adairsville football program was in the midst of a down year after a lengthy period of success.
Despite the three losses, head coach Eric Bishop was not worried about his team, and was quick to point out the three losses came to quality opponents in Ridgeland, Cass and Model.
Two of those teams are ranked in the top 10 of their respective classifications and the other, Cass, is competing for a playoff spot in Class 5A.
The Tigers reminded everyone Friday night that they are the same Adairsville program that has made five consecutive state playoff appearances and is looking for a sixth.
“It was kind of just we picked up where we left off,” Bishop said of the team’s attitude after the win. “I think everybody kind of overthought the 0-3 start and overthought this win. It’s like what we talked to the kids about, ‘This is what we do. This is the expectation.’ Of course, they were glad to get the monkey off their back of the first win, but it wasn’t like we won a state championship or something. It was kind of what they’re used to and what they expected.”
In some ways, Bishop believes the 0-3 start has further focused his team.
“That 0-3 is against three pretty dang good football teams. Probably, that 0-3 put us in a position to win [Friday] night, whereas they were still hungry,” Bishop said. “They were working hard. I’m not so sure, if we’re 3-0 going into that game [Friday] night, if we would have gotten the same effort and focus that we got because we clearly played the best game of the year. I don’t try to downplay 0-3, but it might have been something that this 2016 Adairsville Tigers team needed to really turn the corner and find out what it takes to win a high-level game like that.”
Now that Adairsville has a win against a state playoff contender from the opposite subregion, the challenge for the Tigers becomes retaining that hunger the 0-3 team had Friday night.
“Hopefully, they see it now. The big focus now is to deal with a whole different set of obstacles in that we can’t get complacent and this can’t be a one-time improvement,” Bishop said. “It has to be this kind of improvement week after week, heading into securing a state playoff berth and then into the playoffs.”
TALE OF 2 HALVES — Friday’s night Ringgold-Adairsville game was neck and neck throughout, with neither team taking more than a one-score lead until the final quarter.
It was in the second half when Adairsville prevailed, and after allowing 349 yards of offense in the first half to Ringgold, the Tigers locked down and allowed just 99 yards in the second half.
“We’re not real proud of the fact that we gave up 349 yards of offense in the first half, but we did that and went to the half tied, so that was kind of a push at that point,” Bishop said. “The biggest thing is [defensive coordinator Jon] Cudd and the defensive staff went in at halftime and made some adjustments based on what they were having their success on and came out of the half to only give up 99 yards in the second half. That and special teams was really the difference in the ballgame.”
SUCCESSFUL SWITCHES — It’s never easy moving to a new position, especially in the middle of a season, but Adairsville’s Tyler Riley and Zeke Chester looked like they handled a move just fine.
Riley and Chester, both senior safeties in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 defense, moved to cornerback in Adairsville’s off-week to, in coach Bishop’s words, “shore up some things on defense.”
With junior corner Reed Hughes getting hurt the week before the Ringgold game, Riley and Chester figured to get even more reps at their new position, and both put up big numbers.
Chester had four tackles and broke up four passes, while Riley made two tackles, broke up two passes, and returned a kickoff 80-plus yards for a touchdown.
EARLY AGGRESSION — Cass went for it on fourth down on each of its first two possessions.
The first, a fourth-and-3 at their own 42-yard line, saw quarterback Brett Gaddy bobble the snap and pick up just two yards, forcing a turnover.
The second, a fourth-and-4 at Hiram’s 32, worked out much better, as Gaddy threw a quick out to Devin Pritchett for 11 yards and Derrick Maxwell scored a 26-yard touchdown one play later.
Coach Bobby Hughes’ aggressive decisions likely helped set the tone for the game.
The coaching staff showed trust in its quarterback, putting the ball in Gaddy’s hands rather than Maxwell’s, despite the running back averaging 4.9 yards per carry in the game.
The Colonels would later pick up a first down on a fourth-and-27 in the third quarter when Hiram was called for roughing the kicker, while their last fourth-down try on their second-to-last possession ended with Laizon West losing eight yards on fourth-and-7 and very nearly giving Hiram a chance to win.
CRUCIAL WIN — Cass plays in the hyper-competitive Region 7-AAAAA, which features three top-10 teams in the state in Kell, Rome and Carrollton.
With that trio likely to lock up three out of the four state playoff spots up for grabs in the region, the race for that fourth spot will be bitterly contested between the remaining five programs.
With its win over Hiram, and its rout of Woodland last week, Cass has taken a big step towards that final playoff berth.
Unless the Colonels can spring an upset over one of the three powerhouse teams, they’ll likely need to win out against the rest of the region teams, and their escape against Hiram gets them two-fifths of the way there.
Cass will play East Paulding on Oct. 7, Paulding County on Oct. 21 and Villa Rica on Oct. 28.
If they can win those three games, the Colonels will almost certainly be making a return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2006.
—The Daily Tribune News staffers Jason Greenberg and Andrew Houghton contributed to this report.