Cass head coach Steve Gates insists his team hasn’t changed its approach whatsoever in getting ready to host Cartersville this week at Doug Cochran Stadium. Honestly. “This week was …
Cass head coach Steve Gates insists his team hasn’t changed its approach whatsoever in getting ready to host Cartersville this week at Doug Cochran Stadium.
“This week was just a normal schedule for game week preparation,” Gates said Wednesday. “The kids are as excited as they were to play Dawson County, Adairsville, Temple, Ridgeland and Sequoyah.
“Cartersville is just next on the schedule for us.”
It’s hard to argue with the logic, considering the Colonels are 5-0 in Gates’ first year with the program.
But does he really expect those outside of the program to believe that Cass hasn’t changed its approach, even slightly, as it looks to begin Region 7-AAAAA play with a season-defining win?
“We haven’t done one thing different preparation-wise for Cartersville as we did for Temple or Dawson County,” Gates reiterated. “We have not changed one schedule, one five-minute period, one rep, one anything. We are staying the course for Cass football. …
“I don’t care if people buy it or not, it’s the truth.”
But what about personnel usage? Surely senior standout Zay Jackson, who has scored touchdowns on four of his six offensive touches, will be split more evenly between both sides of the ball this week, right?
“I get an earful every Sunday from the offensive coaches, wanting Zay Jackson,” Gates acknowledged. “As much as I’m an offensive guy — coordinator, offensive line, the whole deal — I know how important my defense is. I will put a priority on my defense. …
“I would love Zay Jackson to touch the ball 25 times on offense, I really would. But I don’t want him 60-70%, bent over at the waist at safety, have someone run right by him or have him be too tired to fill on a run play, and it costs us on defense. We’ll use Zay just like we normally have. He’ll touch the ball a few times a game, and hopefully, he can continue to make something happen.”
That being said, pretending this week’s game is anything like those prior ones would be an extremely unique way to view the crosstown matchup.
For starters, this game actually matters. Not that winning those first handful of games didn’t mean anything — in fact each was quite significant in helping the Colonels reach this point — but Friday marks the start of play in the region. These next five games will determine whether Cass returns to the state playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Put differently, Cass is currently 5-0, while Hiram is 0-5. Both teams have roughly the same odds of making the playoffs.
The Colonels would take a huge step towards postseason qualification with a victory over the Canes (4-1), who are coming off their first regular-season loss since falling to Gates — then an assistant coach — and North Cobb in 2014.
Gates said he believes Cartersville is a top-five team in Class 5A and top-20 team in all classifications. (For what it’s worth, MaxPreps has Cartersville sixth in its classification and 38th overall.) He didn’t go into any specifics about what he expects to see out of the Canes on either side of the ball, but Gates did note that Cartersville will be sound in everything it does.
“As a technician in a lot of areas, I can see when players at the high school level are technical, and Cartersville is technical,” Gates said. “That tells me that they are very well coached. Kids don’t just know how to do certain things through natural ability. They have to be taught certain things. …
“That’s kind of what stands out. They, of course, have like four or five Division-I players. Those guys can go play for anybody in the state. [Evan] Slocum and some of those guys, they’re fun to watch on film.”
The Cass coaching staff will hope to limit the number of highlight-reel plays made by Cartersville. Defensively, the Colonels have been extremely stingy this season, allowing just over 12 points per game, with no team scoring more than 17. A similar performance — or even one that keeps the Canes in the 20s — should give the hosts a strong chance at remaining unbeaten.
Thus far, Cass has defeated Dawson County, Adairsville and Temple at home this season, but Gates understands that this week’s meeting with Cartersville — the first since 2015 — will lead to a much different environment.
Even still, he fully believes that the Colonels’ best chance to maintain a winning formula is to keep using the same ingredients.
“I’m going to fight,” Gates said. “I’m going to fight Cartersville and my players are going to fight Cartersville just like they fought Sequoyah and everybody else they’ve played. That’s the approach we’ve taken. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be the biggest crowd of the year, and it’s going to be rocking. The atmosphere will be incredible. …
“Hopefully, we, as a huge underdog in this deal, can compete. That’s why I came up here, to compete against the top teams in the state. That’s our goal, and we’ll see what happens.”