Two of the most successful programs in the history of Georgia high school football will meet tonight for a spot in the Class 4A state championship game.However, the 7:30 battle at Weinman …
Two of the most successful programs in the history of Georgia high school football will meet tonight for a spot in the Class 4A state championship game.
However, the 7:30 battle at Weinman Stadium will be the first meeting between Cartersville and Marist since 1930 and just the third-ever matchup between the powerhouses, which both rank in the top 10 all-time for most wins in the state of Georgia.
It’s somewhat surprising the Canes and War Eagles haven’t ran into each other in the postseason at least once over the past few years. Including this season, Cartersville has been to the semis five times in the past seven years, while Marist has made it this far four times in the same span.
But no matter what happens in tonight’s semifinal, there will be no repeat of the result from 88 years ago. That October game ended in a 6-6 tie.
This playoff contest will need a winner to put up against the victor of tonight’s other semifinal between Blessed Trinity and Troup County. In a sign of where the strength of Class 4A seems to reside, only two regions are represented in the Final Four with the top two teams from Region 5-AAAA and Region 7-AAAA still standing.
In a scheduling change made official Thursday, the semifinal winners will meet at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. All eight GHSA state championship games were forced to be pushed back four days due to Atlanta United hosting the MLS Cup on Dec. 8.
After coming from behind to beat Baldwin on the road in the quarterfinals, Cartersville (13-0) is looking forward to hosting the semifinals. Even still, going away from home hasn’t proved detrimental to Marist (11-2) so far this postseason.
The War Eagles have arguably the best playoff resume in the state. They have already beaten St. Pius X — to avenge a regular-season defeat — and previously undefeated Mary Persons on the road the past two rounds.
If Marist goes on to win the state title over Blessed Trinity, the team would have beat the top four teams in the classification entering the playoffs — with none of those games being played at Marist.
“That’s just them and the tradition of that program,” Cartersville head coach Joey King said of Marist’s road success. “They’ve done that for years. It’s nothing new to those guys.
“Luckily, we’ve got a pretty good tradition here, too. It should be two really good football teams, fighting their tails off on a really good Friday night.”
For Cartersville to return to the state title game for the third time in four seasons, the Canes will need to find a way to put points on the board against one of the only defenses in the state that’s as good as the one Cartersville possesses.
King talked up the mixture of brains and brawn Marist’s defense puts on display.
The rare combination is exemplified by Jalen Clark. According to his hudl profile, the defensive end/linebacker benches 280 pounds, squats 420, and wants to either work for NASA as an engineer or be an oncologist.
“They’re so smart,” King said. “… They’re all big. They’re big and strong, and they play really, really hard. They’re well coached, and they’re going to give you multiple looks. They’re smart kids who are athletic. When you have smart kids who are athletic, you can do a lot of stuff with them. They do a heckuva job coaching.
“We were reading one of their defensive lineman’s profile. [Clark] wants to work for NASA one day. They’ve got guys who are extremely intelligent, and it shows in the way that they play and everything they’re able to do with those guys. But take nothing away from their athletic ability, because they’re athletic, too.”
One of those athletes is Notre Dame commit Kyle Hamilton. The senior is ranked as the No. 2 safety in the country, No. 5 player in Georgia and No. 22 in the country, according to 247Sports.
That being said, Hamilton’s biggest impact tonight could come on the offensive side of the ball. Marist is a run-oriented team behind quarterback Connor Cigelske, who had the team’s lone touchdown in a 10-7 quarterfinal win over Mary Persons, but the threat of him throwing the ball up to Hamilton should worry Cartersville fans.
“They’ve got one of the best athletes in the country to raise up and throw it to,” King said of Hamilton. “Kid committed to Notre Dame plays safety, plays wide receiver, plays some Wildcat quarterback. He’s a stud. It’s a challenge, because you have to commit hats to the box in order to stop the run. All of the sudden, they get you in some one-on-one situations, and you just have to be ready to try to make a play.
“We’re going to try to stop the run game, which is our goal every week, and contain the pass. That’s our defensive philosophy, and that’s been the same since Week 0.”
Those who made the trip to Baldwin last week certainly remember how successful the Braves were at just lobbing the ball up to athletic play-makers.
“We played that horribly against Baldwin, to be honest,” King said. “[Marist] has a quarterback who throws it a lot better and a receiver who’s a lot more athletic. We’ve got our work cut out for us in that capacity.”
While the weather forecast 24 hours prior to kickoff showed a low chance of rain during game time, it’s expected that precipitation will fall most of the day leading up to the contest.
The field at Weinman Stadium should remain in better condition than the “pigpen” at Baldwin, as King referred to it. But it could make for a potentially difficult surface on which to run.
Last week, Cartersville abandoned the pass early to focus on running the ball down Baldwin’s throat, as the Canes threw the ball just eight times. They can’t rely on having the same amount of success on the ground this time out.
And at some point, Cartersville will need to trust standout quarterback Tee Webb and his stable of pass-catchers. It’s clear, though, that both teams will lean on their respective rushing attacks.
King understands the task at hand won’t be easy, but he knows it doesn’t hurt to have home-field advantage.
“We’re excited,” King said. “We hope the weather cooperates, and it’s another good Friday night here. Traditionally, in the past since we’ve been here, the semifinals have been really, really crowded. It’s a fun atmosphere to be a part of, and I hope it’s the same way.”