Cass first-year head coach Steve Gates just keeps making history on a weekly basis, and if his freshman quarterback continues to develop as projected, there will be plenty more special nights for the …
Cass first-year head coach Steve Gates just keeps making history on a weekly basis, and if his freshman quarterback continues to develop as projected, there will be plenty more special nights for the Colonels in the future.
After defeating Dawson County in its opening game, marking the program's first win over a top-10 team since 1983, Cass downed North Bartow rival Adairsville 27-17 Friday at Doug Cochran Stadium. This week's victory gives the Colonels their first 2-0 start since 2007.
"We got better from Week 1 to Week 2, and that's all I can ask," Gates said. "Yes, we won both games, but the progression from Week 1 to Week 2 was tremendous. Half the penalties, no turnovers, as a coach, you can't ask for anything more than that."
That certainly includes ninth-grade QB Devin Henderson, who looked much more comfortable throwing the ball this time around after relying mostly on his legs against Dawson County.
After an uneven varsity debut last week, in which he completed fewer than 50% of his passes, Henderson took a major step forward against Adairsville (1-1). While the Tigers kept him from gaining much yardage on the ground, he picked his spots in completing 11 of 14 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
Henderson connected with Connor Ray for an 80-yard score on arguably the biggest play of the night. Ray caught the ball at roughly midfield but still had plenty to do to keep himself inbounds and brush off a few would-be tacklers.
The touchdown came on the first play of the second half for the Colonels after the Tigers had marched down the field for a score to pull within 13-10.
"That's something we saw, building off of last week and a lot of the things Devin did well on the out passes," Gates said of the play. "What's open after that? The out-and-up. I had to pull out my OC hat at halftime and run the out-and-up on the rollout.
"It worked. Connor Ray was wide open and did a heckuva job."
Two big plays to begin the fourth quarter also showed the growth from Henderson.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead and facing a third-and-14 to open the final stanza, Devin Henderson connected with Jakeevin Henderson for 16 yards. Devin Henderson followed that up with a 15-yard score to C.J. Pipkin to account for the game's final points.
Henderson's other scoring pass came on a short throw to Zay Jackson that the senior, who later picked off a pass, turned into a 19-yard touchdown. The play came with 44 seconds left in the second quarter, ending a first half marked by offensive futility in the red zone.
Prior to Jackson's touchdown, which is his second in two weeks, both teams had combined to settle for three short field goals.
Cass kicker Kaleb Speights connected from 23 and 28 yards to give his side a 6-0 lead. Adairsville's Emanuel Lopez connected from 28, as well, to cut the deficit in half with 3:14 to go in the second quarter.
"The first half, the story is the goal line stands," Tigers head coach Eric Bishop said. "Hats off to our defense, coach [Jon] Cudd and the defensive staff for being prepared down there inside the red zone.
"We do feel like we had some missed opportunities."
With neither team nor any program in the state getting to have a scrimmage game, Gates isn't too surprised that struggles in the red zone and goal-to-go situations have been a theme early in the year, as the Colonels settled for three field goals last week.
"The red zone is very particular," Gates said. "You've got to have your X's and O's dialed up to a T to be efficient in the red zone. We're not. Obviously, we're not.
"But I'm fortunate enough to have, probably, an all-state kicker in Kaleb Speights. ... When we're 40 [yards] and in, hey, get the points, and that's what I'm doing. We're getting the points. It's very nice to have a kicker like Kaleb until we fine-tune our red zone stuff."
That area seemed to improve as the game went along. After field goals accounted for the first three scoring drives, none were converted the rest of the way. However, Lopez did attempt an unsuccessful 47-yarder late in hopes of cutting the score to 27-20.
"The fact that it was a two-possession game, we just went for the field goal early," Bishop said. "We tried to finish it that way. The down and distance [fourth-and-7] just wasn't favorable for going for it, so we went for the field goal."
For the most part, the Cass defense kept Adairsville at bay. But a few defensive breakdowns allowed the Tigers to connect on some big plays to hang around.
Backup quarterback Evan Sanders connected with Dylan Matthews on a trick play, covering 72 yards late in the first half. Ja'Corey Jackson, who also had an interception to set up the first Cass field goal, dragged down Matthews at the 5-yard line, and the Colonels managed to force a field goal.
On the opening drive of the second half, a 48-yard run by Eli Agnew set up a short touchdown pass from Conner Crunkelton to Charlie Ray. Following Cass' one-play drive, Adairsville needed just 64 seconds to find the end zone again. This time Crunkelton found Courtney Slocum, who had 118 total yards, for a 66-yard score to claw the Tigers within 20-17.
But as he likely will many times in the coming years, Henderson managed to answer back to help seal another historic win for the Colonels.
"It's going to get scary with Devin Henderson," Gates said. "I've tried to tell some of my Power Five guys that I'm friends with, 'Get your phones ready.' He's not there yet. There's no doubt Devin Henderson is not there yet. Within the next 18 months ..."
Gates trailed off, probably not wanting to get too ahead of himself, before adding, "The kid, he's pretty special. That's all I can say, he's special."