However, the Tigers will face their toughest challenge of the season today as they face Bartow County rival Cartersville at Adairsville High.
“I think it’s going to be a great ballgame,” Cartersville head coach Frank Barden said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for our football team. It’s two teams that are fighting for playoff spots and two teams that are in the region and it’s a very important game.”
Cartersville is currently ranked second in the state behind Buford and has been steamrolling through opponents so far this season, averaging a margin of victory of 43 points per game. The Purple Hurricanes’ offense is in midseason form and has averaged nearly 60 points per game in region play.
So what do the Tigers do to slow down The Canes’ attack?
To head coach Eric Bishop, the key will be his team’s mindset.
“We told our kids, ‘You can do everything right and still not have a successful play,’” Bishop said. “They’re fast. The biggest thing is we’re going to have to keep everything in front of us and hopefully force them into some third-and-longs where we have a good chance to get a stop.”
The Tigers have a potent offense of their own and have only been held below 30 points per game twice this season, both occurring in their two losses to Cass and Ringgold.
“They have a good football team. Obviously they have a good quarterback and they have good skill players,” Barden said of Adairsville. “They are always going to be well-coached and we play them up there at their place. You just really have to prepare at this time of the year mentally, as well as physically.”
The three-headed monster of Marcus Childers, Tristin Smith and Sidnee Johnson have fueled Adairsville’s offense. Against Rockmart on Sept. 3, Cartersville featured a five-linemen defensive front to combat Rockmart’s heavy emphasis on the running game. The coaching staff may decide to utilize a similar strategy tonight, but Barden would not reveal the game plan when asked on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be like it is every week,” Barden said of his strategy to stop Adairsville’s rushing attack. “We’re going to have to go in and study the tape and really focus on our defensive assignments and defensive alignments and make sure the players are in the right place.”
Although it may benefit the Tigers to try to run the ball and, in doing so, run the clock to keep the ball away from the Canes, Adairsville does plan to get contributions from its passing game.
“We’re going to try to run and pass,” Bishop said. “We passed the ball 17 times last week against Sonoraville and that’s what we’re looking at again.”
It is a game between two of the top three teams in Region 5-AAA. However, both teams look like they already have the inside track on playoff positioning. Adairsville’s one region loss came to Ringgold, currently tied with Cartersville atop the standings. As a result, the Tigers are looking at the third seed in the region after defeating Sonoraville and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, the current fourth and fifth seeds, earlier in the season.
Bishop still sees significance in the game in terms of the development of his team.
“It’s really going to be a good measuring stick game; [Cartersville] and Ringgold are probably the two biggest ones,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s not going to make or break our season, but it’s definitely a chance to get better and a chance to see where we are at heading into our next game.”
Meanwhile, the Canes are a perfect 7-0 on the season and 4-0 in the region. They will meet Ringgold in their last regular season game of the season on Nov. 8.
Of course, any time two Bartow County football teams play there is bound to be interest from the community. Even more so when the game features two playoff contenders, such as the case with the game tonight.
“People have been asking about it for weeks now,” Bishop said of the area’s excitement over the game. “The biggest thing is that we just have to do what we can as a team and try to play the best game we can.”
“Our fans have done a great job following us,” Barden said. “We’ve got to come back down 75 and, being inside the county, it’ll be a very good ballgame and a good Friday night.”