After losing another key player, and leader, early in a matchup of unbeatens Friday night, the Purple Hurricanes flexed the depth that has allowed them to win their first seven games this season. They fell behind early against Gordon Central but overcame that deficit as they rolled to a 41-19 victory.
Injuries have not been kind to Cartersville, but the team has been able to shake them thus far.
“We lost Hayes [Linn] the first play,” coach Frank Barden said of the team’s all-county defensive back. “We’ve had some injuries.”
That may be an understatement. Along with Linn, who missed essentially his third game Friday, the Canes are already without freshman running back Tiamon Pennymon, offensive lineman Gordon Wallin and Matthew Bryson, a safety.
“That’s three big-time starters. The biggest thing is we’re coming into our own as a team. We’re finding an identity. It’s a process. We’re growing,” Barden said. “It’s really fun to be around kids that want to grow and get better.”
Filling in for Linn, Kobie Whitfield, a freshman wide receiver/defensive back, proved to be a disruptive force, swaggering in the middle of Cartersville’s defensive backfield and coming up to make plays at the line of scrimmage. He even matched up in coverage with the Warriors’ 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end, D.J. Prather, who has drawn interest at the NCAA Division I level.
With Whitfield playing primarily on defense, Canes receiver Gordon Gray exploded for a huge day, finishing with five receptions for 96 yards, including a crucial fourth-down grab in the second quarter to set up Cartersville’s go-ahead touchdown.
The Canes’ defensive losses have trickled down to special teams where Greg Davis and Josh Cooper have had to replace Bryson and Linn, the previous snapper and holder, respectively, on point-after touchdown and field goal attempts.
“We were really worried about that, but Greg Davis came in and did great. Then Greg got hurt, and Collin Sapp had to come in and snap. So, we had to go all the way down to the third snapper,” Barden explained. “And that’s why I say it’s so important for every one of our kids to prepare because they never know when they gonna have to go in.”
The ability to step up and contribute by the second and third players on Cartersville’s depth chart has the Canes (7-0, 4-0) on the verge of their first region title in six years. They are currently No. 1 in Region 5-AAA, with a remaining schedule that includes a home game against Adairsville (5-2, 3-1) Friday and away dates with Sonoraville (1-6, 0-4) and Ringgold (4-3, 2-2) in the final two games of the regular season.
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