West Hall, on the other hand, had gone 6-4 and snuck into the playoffs by winning its last game against Dawson County to earn the program’s first playoff appearance in 12 years.
However, the difference between the two teams Friday night at Cartersville High was just two points as a West Hall 41-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds sailed wide left to give Cartersville the 28-26 victory and a berth in the second round.
“I’m willing to bet you that everybody in the state thought [Cartersville] was going to run us out of this building by 50 points,” West Hall head coach Tony Lotti said after the game. “I’m just proud of my kids. We battled a team that’s tremendous in their place. They don’t lose here and all I can say is, wow.”
For the Purple Hurricanes, they will advance to play St. Pius back at Weinman Stadium next Friday.
“That’s the name of the game right now, survive and advance,” Cartersville head coach Frank Barden said. “Our kids competed and played hard. That’s just the way it is in the playoffs.”
After ineffective opening drives by each team’s offense, Cartersville and West Hall traded touchdowns twice, resulting in 27 points scored in less than two minutes of game clock.
The Spartans reached the end zone first with a five-play, 44-yard drive culminating in a 22-yard connection between quarterback Zach English and standout tight end Hunter Atkinson.
The extra point attempt was unsuccessful, making the score 6-0 seven minutes into the game.
The Canes needed just two plays to respond as Tiamon Pennymon patiently followed offensive linemen Ceighln Cooley and Collin Sapp through the West Hall defense before accelerating in the open field for a 67-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, West Hall’s Ty Statham ran 95 yards to give his team a 13-7 lead.
After Cartersville regained possession, the Canes went on a four-play, 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 52-yard run by Pennymon and capped by a 15-yard run by the sophomore running back.
The first quarter finally came to an end with Cartersville leading 14-13.
“I think we came out and were determined to prove that we belonged,” Lotti said. “They’re a great team, but we came out and the kids played with heart.”
The defense picked up in the second quarter as each team traded turnovers.
A West Hall fumble set the Cartersville offense up at midfield. The Canes drove 33 yards before Barden’s pass into the end zone was deflected and picked off by West Hall’s Kwon Williams. Williams was tackled at the 1-yard line on the return. After two Spartan running plays nearly resulting in safeties, English completed a pass roughly 20 yards down the sideline to Williams, who ran the ball the rest of the way for the 99-yard and 11-inch touchdown and a 20-14 lead over Cartersville heading into the second half.
“I think we were able to keep them off balance a little bit,” Lotti said.
Kalin Heath intercepted a pass at the Cartersville 20-yard line at the end of the half with West Hall driving. Heath returned the ball to the West Hall 4-yard line as time expired in the period, nearly notching the go-ahead score.
The Canes used that momentum and came out strong in the second half. After a Trase Fezzia 63-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter, Cartersville took over at the West Hall 7-yard line. It then took two plays for Heath to run the ball into the end zone from a yard out to give Cartersville a 21-20 lead just 45 seconds into the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, Cartersville would score another touchdown on the team’s second offensive possession of the second half. Punt returner Mark Quattlebaum put the team at West Hall’s 17-yard line after a 31-yard return.
Three plays later, on third-and-9, Barden found Quattlebaum open in the middle of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and Cartersville took a 28-20 lead.
“I’m very proud of how we came out in the second half when they had an opportunity to take charge of the game,” Barden said.
West Hall would get back in the game, however, as Tyquan Statham picked off a Barden pass at West Hall’s 20-yard line and ran it back 80 yards for the score to bring the game to 28-26.
“Our defense played great,” Barden said. “They have a good football team, but two of their scores were on an interception return and a kickoff return.”
The two-point conversion attempt failed as Bryce Gober knocked the ball away from Atkinson to keep Cartersville ahead by two with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
After West Hall stopped Cartersville’s next drive, the Spartans mounted a drive of their own, taking nine plays to move to the Canes’ 18-yard line. After the drive stalled, kicker Bradley Hodgson tried a 35-yard field goal. A poor snap did not allow the kick to get off and West Hall still trailed by two points.
Cartersville continued to struggle to move the ball as the Canes went for just 59 yards in the passing game on 5-for-18 passing. They also had seven critical offensive penalties in the second half that stalled drives.
“We got some adversity,” Barden said. “You come in with the wind blowing 30 miles per hour and it’s pouring rain. We knew coming in that’s not to our advantage, but the kids hung in there.”
The Spartans stepped up on Cartersville’s next drive, forcing a three-and-out to retain possession with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
After a six-play, 42-yard drive, West Hall was faced with a fourth-and-5 at the 23-yard line. Lotti opted to kick the field goal. The field goal attempt failed and the Canes went on to sneak into the second round of the playoffs.
“Bottom line is we are playing next week,” Barden said. “You celebrate it, you take this one to the bank, and you get ready for next week.”
Atkinson had eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown for West Hall.
Pennymon ran for 139 yards on five carries in the first half, but battled injury in the second half to finish with 160 yards on nine carries with two touchdowns. He also had seven tackles.
Heath ran the ball 14 times for 79 yards in the game.
Quattlebaum was Cartersville’s leading receiver with 26 yards on two catches. Tyler Reed was the leading tackler for the Canes with nine.
Trevor Carlton, Greg Davis, Jesse House and Atlan Glanton each chipped in six tackles.