However, to win a championship, a team needs luck, and the stars did not align for the Purple Hurricanes in the 2013 postseason.
The Canes had gone 10-0 during the regular season and had crushed opponents by an average of 40 points. As a result, there was a sense of optimism that this Cartersville team could reach the pinnacle as the 1991 and 1999 teams did.
Maybe even the best luck could not have lifted Cartersville past St. Pius in the second round, but there were plenty of things that could have given the Canes a better chance.
First, key injuries tested Cartersville’s depth throughout the season. This could be said about any football team, but Cartersville lost starting running back Brandon Long, top tackler Jahir Camps, and two-way standout Kobie Whitfield to season-ending injuries.
Another factor that hurt Cartersville was the inclement weather the team faced in its two playoff games. All 10 of Cartersville’s regular-season games were played in relatively mild weather. The final two playoff games were played in cold, rainy conditions, which led to few passing attempts.
Meanwhile, St. Pius stuck to its traditional game plan of pounding the football between the tackles. A passing attack predicated on speed will typically struggle in adverse weather conditions, while the St. Pius’ attack was far better suited. Rain and cold temperatures tend to neutralize speed, which was Cartersville’s biggest strength. The circumstances forced the Canes to rely on the ground game.
The offense was effective and Cartersville punted just once in the game. In addition, St. Pius’ Cover-2 defense, along with a strong secondary, is predicated on stopping the passing game. Still, the circumstances created the kind of game St. Pius was looking for and the Canes could not get it done that particular game.
“We came up short against a team that was better than us on that night,” Cartersville head coach Frank Barden said.
The other bit of misfortune Cartersville was dealt with was the fact that the Canes had to face St. Pius at all.
The Golden Lions lost in the state championship to Buford last season by a score of 10-3. According to Chaffee head coach Charlie Vickery, who played St. Pius earlier in the season, this year’s St. Pius team is improved from the one that lost by seven points in the state championship a year ago.
“I think they’re a much better team this year than they were last year,” Vickery said to the Southeast Missourian about the Golden Lions after playing them during the second week of the season.
St. Pius boasts one of the best players in the state, Auburn-commit and safety Nick Ruffin, among other talented players.
The Golden Lions play in, arguably, the state’s toughest region, Region 6, which is why their record was 7-3 at the end of the regular season and they became a three-seed. On the other side of the Bracket, Ringgold’s second-round opponent was the fourth seed in Region 6, Cedar Grove, who lost to St. Pius by 27 in the regular season.
As a result, the way the bracket worked out, if Cartersville had been the 2-seed instead of winning its region, the Canes would likely still be in the state tournament.
To players, fans and coaches, perspective is not enough to overcome the disappointment and sadness deriving from the second-round loss and not reaching self-imposed expectations.
However, there is plenty to look back on in reverence to the season Cartersville had.
The 2014 graduating class of Cartersville football players went 38-9 during their careers and will graduate after winning their last 20 regular season games and going 25-2 the past two years.
Senior starting quarterback Brooks Barden threw for 2,257 yards and 40 touchdowns for one of the best seasons by any quarterback in Georgia. Friday night was not his last game, either. He is headed to UNC-Charlotte next fall along with Mark Quattlebaum, who had an outstanding career of his own.
T.L. Ford is headed to Kansas State and will likely have more important football games ahead of him.
Plenty of other seniors had excellent careers and some will continue them in college.
For the underclassmen, several standouts are returning next season and Cartersville will undoubtedly be contenders to win the region for the third consecutive year.
Still, all the success Cartersville had this season did not stop the tears from flowing after the game Friday night.
And unfortunately for the Canes, only one team can win the championship, and it was not their year.