Cartersville shaking things up ahead of Cass meeting

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 10/16/20

Only once since Conor Foster joined the Cartersville High coaching staff in 2014 has the varsity program been looking to rebound from a regular-season loss. It came early in that initial season, and …

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Cartersville shaking things up ahead of Cass meeting

Posted

Only once since Conor Foster joined the Cartersville High coaching staff in 2014 has the varsity program been looking to rebound from a regular-season loss. It came early in that initial season, and the Canes successfully bounced back to the tune of 62 straight wins in the regular season.

Now, Foster, who has since ascended to head coach, is looking for a similar sort of response following a heartbreaking 14-12 loss Oct. 2 at Cherokee. Unlike that previous instance — in which Cartersville came back from a one-point loss to North Cobb to beat North Paulding — the Canes had an extra week to stew after the defeat to the Warriors.

"It's been a challenge," Foster said Thursday. "Not only do you lose a game, which is tough to do in general, but then you turn around and have to go through an off week. The sting of that loss, it hangs with you longer, maybe, than normal, because for two weeks, you have to sit around and have that bad taste in your mouth.

"I think our coaches have responded well; I think our team has responded well. There's been some growing pains along the way. ... Sometimes you need to face adversity in order to experience growth. It's been a tough two weeks, but we're looking forward to getting back [on the field] and showing our improvement."

While Cartersville (4-1) will obviously hope to be better on defense and special teams, the Canes are really hoping to see progress on the offensive side of the ball.  The dozen points, most of which came from a kickoff return touchdown by Devonte Ross, Cartersville managed against Cherokee were the fewest the Canes have scored since a 23-9 loss in the 2018 Class 4A state championship game.

A major storyline in the buildup to this week's matchup with Bartow County rival Cass (5-0) has been the arrival of transfer quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson. According to Foster, the University of Florida commit is able to play for the Canes after previously being ruled ineligible at Grayson earlier this season by the GHSA.

However, Foster said senior Stratton Tripp will remain the team's starter versus the Colonels. Tripp has started every game this season, completing 52 of 85 passes (61.2 percent) for an average of 179 yards per game. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has seven touchdown passes to one interception.

"I think you're going to see good quarterback play," Foster said in regards to this week's game. "We've had two weeks, and all of our guys have done a tremendous job. Stratton Tripp is our starter. ...

"I look forward to seeing us respond, and I look forward to us being great teammates and enjoying each other's success."

Asked directly if he plans to play multiple quarterbacks, Foster said,  "I'm going to keep the plans under wraps. ... We'll see. I think the game will dictate a little bit of that."

He later admitted that the Cartersville team that takes the field at Cass for the Region 7-AAAAA opener could look much different than the one that faced Cherokee to close out the non-region portion of the schedule.

"We've got a few wrinkles up our sleeve across the board," Foster said. "We'll see a few guys rotating in at some different spots and playing in some different roles. I look forward to a lot of guys getting some unique opportunities."

On the other side, Cass head coach Steve Gates has been adamant that he won't change anything ahead of this week's meeting — the first between the programs in five seasons. It's hard to argue with the plan, as the Colonels are off to their first 5-0 start since 2004.

"Can't give coach Gates and his staff enough credit, even going back to coach [Bobby] Hughes and the work they've done at Cass over the years since the last time we played," Foster said. "You can tell that there's a strong foundation there, and that coach Gates and his staff are doing a tremendous job of building upon that foundation.

"They're strong, they play physical and they play confident. They have a lot of returning starters who have been in big moments. You can tell they're playing faster than ever, because they're more confident than ever. And they should be. They've won some tough football games and been in some tough moments. Just a really, really good football team. Can't give Cass enough credit for the work that they've done."

While the quarterback situation at Cartersville has been a hot topic of conversation over the past two weeks, the most important signal-caller on the field this week could be on the other sideline.

Cass freshman Devin Henderson keeps improving as the Colonels offense continues to evolve. It's remarkable the success he's been able to have despite essentially learning the offense piece by piece. Through five games, Henderson has accounted for 1,110 yards (830 passing, 280 rushing), according to the Georgia High School Football Daily newsletter.

"It's been fun to watch him grow," Foster said of Henderson. "Each week you go and do your breakdown, and you continue to see their offense grow. To see him grow from a maturity standpoint and a decision-making standpoint, obviously, he's very talented. His future is extremely bright. ... He's already an elite talent at quarterback.

"We're going to have to rally to the ball; we're going to have to give him different looks; and we're going to have to try to confuse him some and get him off his game."

Despite suffering its first non-playoff defeat in six years, Cartersville still has a legitimate chance to achieve all of its primary goals. Foster always points out that his goal is to go 1-0 every week.

This time out, such a result would see the Canes automatically move into a first-place tie atop the region. That's a pretty good way to help put that previous game behind them.

"I'm excited about the schedule moving forward," Foster said of the region slate. "Looking forward to seeing how our team responds every week to big-time high school football — whether it be a regional rivalry or a state power. Every game is going to be really exciting."