Cartersville’s historic two-year run overshadows a battle of unbeatens
The Class AAAA state championship features a matchup of undefeated teams and contrasting offensive philosophies. Cartersville’s unstoppable passing game goes head-to-head with Thomson’s relentless rushing attack. The two programs have spent the past four months ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in Class AAAA, while seemingly improving each week on their road to the Dome. While the matchup itself is enough to get excited about the matchup, Cartersville’s incredible two-year run is still the biggest storyline heading into Saturday’s showdown.
Cartersville, the defending champion, stands one victory from becoming the 11th team to produce back-to-back 15-0 seasons and the 19th to sustain a 30-game winning streak. Class AAAA
Riding a state-best 29-game winning streak, Cartersville is the hottest program in the state entering championship weekend. The Purple Hurricanes have once again turned in an undefeated resume on their path to the Georgia Dome, and are a win away from capturing back-to-back titles for the first time in program history. Head coach Joey King took over the program in 2014 with a promising freshman quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. The duo has compiled a 41-2 record together and Lawrence has blossomed into the No. 1 rated prospect in the Class of 2018. Lawrence has been lights out this season, leading an offense that turns in 45.5 points per game. The 6-foot-5 junior has completed 236-of-372 passes (63.4 percent) for 3,708 yards (264.9 per game) and 49 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. He threw a career-best seven touchdowns in Cartersville’s 77-14 win over Chestatee to open the postseason and has thrown 16 touchdowns without an interception in the first four rounds. Lawrence’s elite skillset allows him to find targets down field and sideline to sideline and it’s the reason 10 different targets have caught touchdown passes this season. Leading the receiving corps is Avery Showell, who has caught 16 touchdowns this season off of a team-high 42 receptions. Junior E.J. Turner is another big play receiver and is coming off a season-best of 111 receiving yards in the 38-17 semifinals victory over Mary Persons. Turner has hauled in eight touchdowns this season. In the backfield of the unstoppable Cartersville offense is senior running back Trey Creamer. The 6-foot back took just two carries in last year’s state championship game, but made an impact in the passing game where he hauled in three passes for 62 yards. Creamer’s versatility compliments his ability as a feature running back, and he is coming off a season-highs of 18 carries and 146 rushing yards in the semifinals. Creamer has accounted for 17 of the team’s 26 rushing touchdowns this season and 711 of their 1,063 yards.
Like three-year Cartersville head coach Joey King, Thomson head coach Rob Ridings has led the Bulldogs into the finals in his third season at the school. Ridings is a 16-year head coaching veteran that has improved the Bulldogs’ win total from four games in 2014, to an 11-2 finish last year. Now, undefeated Thomson sits a win away from the program’s first state title since 2002 and what would be the sixth crown in its history. Thomson has been unstoppable in 2016 and a 20-7 win over Burke County on Oct. 28 is the smallest margin of victory this year. In the playoffs, Thomson has outscored Americus-Sumter (57-23), West Hall (42-14), Spalding (30-7) and Jefferson (27-7) by an average 26.3 points per game. Thomson operates a prolific running offense that has thrashed opponents with a 312.6 rushing yards per game average. Michael Thomas has led Thomson with 2,240 rushing yards and 160 yards per game, while finding the endzone 24 times. In the first round win over Americus-Sumter, the senior took just 10 carries for a season-high 335 rushing yards and five touchdowns. His playoff stat line has seen him take 89 carries for 830 yards (9.3 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He also threw a 32-yard touchdown in the semifinals to Tray Parker on a halfback pass. Sophomore Bubba Murray shares the load in the backfield and has put together a 1,007-yard rushing effort this season. Murray has rushed for 17 touchdowns this season and has three rushing performances of 100 or more yards. Quarterback Mills Ridings rushed for a touchdown in last Friday’s win over Jefferson and he has thrown 15 touchdowns this season. Thomson’s successful rushing attack limits Ridings’ throws, but the junior makes them count with unmistakable effectiveness. Ridings has completed 90-of-133 passes this season (67.7 percent) for 1,393 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions. In the playoffs, he has thrown six touchdowns with two interceptions, while completing 33-of-43 attempts (76.7 percent) for 121.5 yards per game.
Thomson is in its first state-title game since its 2002 Class AAAA championship season. The only other time the programs met on the gridiron came in the 2012 quarterfinals when Cartersville hosted and advanced to the semis with a 21-13 win.