Can Mt. Cartersville be conquered this season?
Cartersville, Cartersville, Cartersville.
Make no mistake about it, the Purple Hurricanes are the mountain that the rest of Class 4A will be attempting to scale again this season. Five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence is back for his senior campaign as the top-ranked player in the nation. He has already quarterbacked Cartersville to 42 victories in the past three years. His expert skillset and machine-like consistency have produced record-breaking numbers, and he has continued to improve and improve since taking over the starting role in 2014. The unanimity backing his status as the top-ranked quarterback in the nation is merited. So is Cartersville’s No. 1 ranking in Class 4A. With a state-best 30-game active winning streak and a bevy of returning talent, the two-time defending champs remain the champs until proven otherwise. Cartersville has not only kept a flawless record for two straight seasons, but it has pummeled its opponents in the process. Last season, most of the games were over by halftime, including the 58-7 victory served to Thomson in the state championship. In last year’s regular season finale when Troup had a chance to claim the Region 5-AAAA crown, Cartersville put on a 68-0 clinic to ax that fairytale.
The accepted supremacy of Cartersville, however, is still just a piece within the otherwise highly-competitive and unpredictable classification it dominates. In 2016 for example, 35 of the classification’s 52 teams won five or more games and incidentally, a 2-9 St. Pius team that struggled to score points all season plunged all the way into an implausible postseason berth. While there may be even more variability seen this season within the eight different regions, it remains uncertain if any team has improved enough since last season to bridge the massive gap that separates Cartersville from the rest of the classification. And it is no discredit to the rest of the classification, but rather a point in time where Cartersville and its senior quarterback could give any classification trouble.
So who could be the team that challenges Cartersville this year?
State-runner up Thomson has four-star cornerback Christian Tutt back in the secondary to defend against Cartersville’s explosive offense. When it comes to its own offensive, however, Thomson has big shoes to fill. Michael Thomas graduated after accounting for 2,313 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns last season. It will be up to junior running back Bubba Murray who posted 1,016 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns last season to pick up the production. Mills Ridings is back for his senior year at quarterback, but the offense would need a quantum leap to compete with a team that beat them by 51 points just eight months ago.
Sandy Creek returns Bryant Walker at quarterback, but the running game must recover with the graduation of playmaker Jaelen Greene. Woodward Academy lost not only Ryan Glover who passed for 2,998 yards and 37 touchdowns with just four interceptions last season, but the War Eagles also graduated their top rusher in Josh Johnson (1,080 yards, 17 touchdowns).
Jefferson featured Colby Clark as a freshman quarterback last season and he will be back with Colby Wood, who led the team with 1,642 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Jefferson has continuity to build off of, but the loss of two-way star Zach Boobas and the Dragons’ leading tackler Blake Wright will leave vulnerabilities on the defensive side of the ball until a suitable replacement steps in.
Mary Persons was a 38-17 casuality to Cartersville in the 2016 semifinals, but the Bulldogs have zero starters returning on offense this season.
If there were a team that got better this offseason and possibly even postured itself to be the team to beat at this point next season when Lawrence has graduated and moved off to college, it is Blessed Trinity. The Titans were one of the youngest teams in the classification last season and went undefeated against in-state opponents before a 28-27 loss to Mary Persons in the quarterfinals. Leading the 2016 offense were sophomore quarterback Jake Smith, sophomore running back Steele Chambers and sophomore receiver Ryan Davis. Chambers gave Blessed Trinity 114.3 rushing yards per game and 21 of the team’s 29 rushing touchdowns. Smith completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,569 yards and 16 touchdowns. Davis caught a team-high seven of those 16 touchdown passes and also hauled in a team-high 50 catches for 706 yards. Defensively, Jake Rudolph is also back after leading last year’s team with 102 combined tackles.