Boys Varsity Football · Canes set to visit improved Lions

Canes set to visit improved Lions,23298?

Cartersville junior Devonte Ross makes a leaping catch during a game at Cherokee High on Sept. 20. The Canes will go on the road Friday to take on Central, Carroll.
Posted Friday, October 4, 2019
The Central, Carroll football program has one of the most up-and-down recent histories of any school Bartow County teams face on a regular basis.
The Lions, who were a Class 2A powerhouse in the 1980s with consecutive state titles in ’86 and ’87, have only produce five winning seasons since the turn of the century. Central went 6-5 in 2001 and 7-5 in 2005.
The only sustained success the program has had this millennium was during the three-year tenure of Rico Zackery. The future Villa Rica head coach and current Kennesaw State assistant guided the Lions to a 30-6 record and three consecutive playoff berths from 2013-15.
Since Zackery’s departure, Central has won a total of eight games. However, three of those have come in the first half of this season. With a 3-2 record, the Lions have guaranteed themselves of at least matching their best season since the Zackery era.
Central’s success this season, which includes defeating 2018 2A state champion Heard County and beating LaGrange in its Region 5-AAAA opener, has caught the eye of its next opponent.
“They’re certainly trending in the right direction,” Cartersville head coach Conor Foster said of the Lions. “Coach [Darius] Smiley has been there for a couple of years and really has them trending in the right direction. The kids are bigger, stronger and more physical each year. You can tell the kids play faster, and they’re more comfortable in their scheme. They believe in what they’re doing. He’s done a really good job of affecting the culture there at Central.”
On both sides of the ball, Central looks to confuse its opponent by running multiple formations. Offensively, Foster said the Lions are split fairly evenly between spread and Wing-T concepts, although he said they maybe lean 60-40 towards the former.
“They do a good job of challenging you formationally to get lined up,” Foster said. “Each week, they have a couple of new wrinkles. We’ll have to make some adjustments in game to some things we haven’t seen. Their coaching staff does a tremendous job, and I have a lot of respect for them.”
Last week, Central piled up 378 rushing yards against LaGrange, according to the Georgia High School Football Daily newsletter. Tuesday’s edition also mentioned that four different Lions managed 80-plus yards, signifying a diverse rushing attack.
Cartersville (5-0, 1-0) faced some tough running backs last week against Cedartown, so the Canes should be prepared to face a solid ground game. While Foster’s group didn’t allow any offensive points in the 24-2 victory, he would have perhaps been disappointed to have not forced any turnovers.
“It doesn’t change so much from week to week, as far as our goals,” Foster said of his defense. “We want to limit big plays, and we want to create negative plays. Those are keys for us. When we have a chance to make plays in the backfield, we have to put them in second- and third-and-long situations. We need to perform well on first down, so that we can win third down. …
“For us, creating some turnovers — we didn’t do that any last week — that’s been a point of emphasis this week in practice.”
As far as the Lions defense is concerned, Foster said Central will alternate some between three- and four-man fronts.
“Sometimes they walk an outside linebacker down to move from an odd front to an even,” he said. “Again, they do a good job of not letting you get comfortable. It’s kind of the same philosophy as on offense. They want to throw out multiple looks, so your kids can’t get comfortable with what they’re seeing.”
Cedartown did a good job of making Cartersville uncomfortable last week. The Bulldogs were able to pick up some big plays offensively and slow down the Canes offense for the most part.
But even in the slugfest, Cartersville was able to exert its dominance.
“I thought we played tough,” Foster said. “It was a physical game, and both teams played really hard. There are certainly some things we need to improve upon and some spots we need to get healthy. … Cedartown is a good football team, and they’ll make some noise in our region. They’ve done a good job of making adjustments.
“We got banged up that game, but watching it, I was proud of how our kids persevered. We had some young guys step up, step in and deliver a big game for us.”
He isn’t a young player, but perhaps, the most impressive showing came from quarterback Tee Webb. The senior took more hard hits against Cedartown than possibly any game he’s played at the varsity level, aside from maybe the Class 4A state semifinal against Marist last year.
Even still, Webb got up after every play and continued to hang in the pocket to deliver throws. He hobbled down the field during a 2-minute drill late in the first half to help Cartersville get a field goal before the break to extend its lead to 10-2. The Louisville commit later stepped into a deep ball to Devonte Ross, knowing full well he was going to take a licking on the play, completing the pass to set up a touchdown for a 17-2 advantage.
Overall, it wasn’t a vintage Webb performance. He had less than 200 yards, completed fewer than half his passes and threw an interception. And yet, Foster heaped praise on his signal-caller.
“I told him this week, I thought it was one of the best games he’s had at Cartersville,” Foster said of Webb. “Sometimes the statistics can be misleading one way or the other. As a coach, you try not to get caught up in that. … As far as his toughness, as far as his leadership and as far as the intangibles that he brings to the table, I thought it was one of the best games of his career. I told him I was really, really proud of him after the game.”
Webb seemingly escaped all those shots without suffering an injury. A few of his teammates weren’t so fortunate.
Senior defensive back Marko Dudley and junior linebacker/running back Harrison Allen left the Cedartown game banged up. Add in a handful of injuries suffered by Cartersville players the week prior against Cherokee, it’s possible the team will be down several starters on this week’s road trip to Central.
While Foster would love to have his full complement of players against the Lions, he remains steadfast in his approach to dealing with the rash of injuries.
“We’ve got guys who want to play,” Foster said Wednesday. “They love this program. They love their teammates. They’re certainly anxious to get back on the field and help this team win games.
“At the same time, us as coaches have to protect them, make sure they are physically fit and mentally ready to be successful. We still have another day to evaluate them. We’ll just take it day by day.”