With a Region 5-AAA championship on the line, the Purple Hurricanes (10-0, 7-0) collected their most impressive win of the year, 33-16, dominating a respectable Ringgold team capable of making a playoff run itself.
In amassing a second-straight perfect regular season, Cartersville spent nine weeks winning by an average margin of 43 points, often against well overmatched opponents. The Tigers had every bit the look of a title contender, though, which offers all you need to know about a Canes team that practically cakewalked to a 17-point victory.
“We knew this was gonna be a big one. It was the best one for the last game. We knew Ringgold was a very big, strong physical team …,” quarterback Brooks Barden said of Ringgold (8-2, 6-1), which returned 18 starters. “We found out pretty quick, once the ball started getting snapped, that is was a really physical game, and we responded really well. We hadn’t been in a close physical game with some hits like that, but we responded really well.”
With Barden pacing its attack, Cartersville has been known to fling the ball around the field, just a little, in the last two seasons.
However, it was the Canes who passed less in the first half, not the typically run-heavy Tigers.
Cartersville ran the ball 17 times, throwing just six times, with Barden setting the tone at the 7:12 mark with a 27-yard, first-quarter touchdown run on a designed QB draw.
“Once we get the tempo going and get the defense a little tired, we like to run the ball, keep going fast … get them out of position and not ready for the next down; we just get lined up and pound it,” said Barden, who threw for three TDs.
The drive, which started at the Cane 41-yard line after a Mark Quattlebaum interception and 33-yard return, gave the hosts a 6-0 lead following a missed point-after touchdown.
Seldom as it seemed, when the Canes did choose to pass, good things ensued as was the case on Quattlebaum’s second-quarter touchdown reception.
On the scoring play, Quattlebaum caught a bubble screen on the left side of the field and weaved his way through the middle of Ringgold’s defense. Jesse House’s two-point run put Cartersville ahead 14-0 with 7:14 remaining before the half.
Making Quattlebaum’s score even more impressive was the fact the Canes faced second-and-28. It would not be the only time the hosts would score while facing second-and-daylight.
On their next drive, Cartersville covered 80 yards, with 11- and
22-yard runs from Tiamon Pennymon. However, it was Kalin Heath’s 40-yard scamper on second-and-25 that put the Canes in total control at 20-0.
Coach Frank Barden noted Ringgold played to limit his team’s short throws, which invited Cartersville’s 34 carries and yielded 100-yard games from both Heath (143) and Pennymon (100).
“I think we’re getting better up front in the line, and obviously with Kalin and Tiamon’s ability to run the ball that really helps us because if people are gonna play T.L. [Ford] and Gordon [Gray] and all these guys on the pass, then we can run the ball,” Barden said. “Tonight they were built to stop the pass and the screens and everything and so our backs had a big night, our line had a big night …”
In the second half, Cartersville’s other offensive weapons would not be kept quiet for long, as both Ford and Gray hauled in TD receptions from Brooks Barden. Gray pulled down a 1-yard catch on a fade route in the right corner of the end zone to give the Canes a 27-0 lead in the third, and Ford’s 5-yard catch on a slant in the fourth gave Cartersville a 33-8 advantage.
“We want to score big points to send a message to the other team …,” Heath said afterward. “… we used all of our weapons. We got talent on the team. We’re a double threat, we can throw the ball, we can run the ball … We [did] both, and it worked out real well.”
Frank Barden felt equally as good about how things turned out on the other side of the ball.
“… [I] can’t say enough about our defense. They played outstanding [against] a great offense,” the longtime Canes coach said. “I think they’re [the Tigers] very good; I think they got a great quarterback and two good backs, so good job by our defense.”
Cartersville spent all night pressuring and harassing the Tigers’ Slade Dale, forcing him out of the pocket and into the waiting arms of Canes defendders.
While Dale, a UGA baseball commit, and running backs Kile Sholl and D.L. Goins helped Ringgold gain 228 rushing yards, it likely came through some well-earned bruises. Dale, who had 108 yards rushing on 14 carries, finally got his team into the end zone with his 2-yard keeper in the third. He added a 30-yard scoring scramble in the fourth.
On a night where Cartersville’s 2013 state championship baseball team received its rings during halftime, Canes fans witnessed the unveiling of another potential title team.
“I’m glad that we had a tough game to get through, and I’m glad it’s prepared us for the playoffs,” Brooks Barden said after his team’s tussle with Ringgold. “I mean, we’re just ready to go five more games and bring it home.”
“I think we gained a lot of experience playing four games at home last year in the playoffs like this,” Frank Barden said. “It was a great run and we have a lot of guys back off of that [team] with experience, so we’ll just take it one game at a time and get ready for the first round …”
Cartersville opens the playoffs Friday, Nov. 15, with a home contest against 4-seed West Hall of Region 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.