SOPHOMORE SWAGGER — To start as an underclassman for Cartersville requires a high level of talent and football IQ. It’s not easy to break into one of the best lineups in the state, but this year, two sophomore defensive backs are doing just that.
Marquail Coaxum and Marko Dudley, sophomores who start alongside seniors Evan Williams and Bradley Kirk in the secondary, each made big plays on Friday.
Coaxum had probably the play of the day for Cartersville’s defense, intercepting an underthrown deep ball from Allatoona quarterback Dante Marshall around the 50 and returning it all the way to the Allatoona 14, making several would-be tacklers miss along the way. He added three tackles.
Dudley nearly forced a turnover himself, coming up to smash Allatoona receiver Mario Gambaccini on a third-and-9 and force a fumble.
Gambaccini fell back on top of the ball, but the play forced a punt, which Dudley returned for 14 yards with some nice moves and quickness.
Dudley finished with seven tackles to go along with his forced fumble.
“My two sophomores, I thought, Marko Dudley came up from the safety spot and made a bunch of big tackles, and then you saw Marquail Coaxum’s interception return there too,” Cartersville coach Joey King said. “He’s pretty special too. They’re going to be fun ones to watch for three years.”
TOUGH TEST — The Allatoona Buccaneers gave Cartersville one of its strongest tests last year as the Canes marched to an undefeated season and state championship.
At Weinman Stadium, the Bucs kept the final score to 30-14. Cartersville wouldn’t have another game that close until Week 8, when it beat Sandy Creek 35-21 on the road.
In the playoffs, only the quarterfinal game was that close, with the Canes vanquishing Woodward Academy 26-15.
The Buccaneers, as one of the other powers in the area, have always provided a good early-season test, and Friday’s game was no different.
The Canes may have won this year’s game by more than last year’s edition, but Allatoona was by no means a pushover, moving the ball better than most Cartersville opponents and keeping the Canes’ defense on the field for long stretches of time.
That effort was led by senior running back Adrian Boyd, who carried 25 times. Altogether, the Bucs picked up 121 rushing yards and 226 total, more than the Canes allowed to most teams last year.
Being faced with a team that didn’t just roll over will hopefully provide valuable experience for Cartersville, even as it tries to smooth out some of the mistakes from Friday.
“I thought there were some really, really good spots and there were some spots that we have to shape up,” King said. “Just little things here and there.”
BIG NUMBERS ON DEFENSE — By any stretch of the imagination, the Wildcats did not have a good day on defense.
They were pushed around at will by River Ridge, which was able to get big yards in chunks and convert too many key third downs. There’s also the 35 points Woodland surrendered.
But it did have two players record double-digit tackles.
Kurtis Feanny and Titus Jones had 14 and 12 tackles respectively, making plays all over the field and wrapping up River Ridge’s runners when they needed to.
On a day when there wasn’t much to celebrate, Feanny and Jones were Woodland’s silver linings.
PLOTT’S CONFIDENCE — Woodland head coach Tony Plott has been saying all throughout the summer that this year’s Wildcat team is better than last year’s.
That team went winless, and until this year’s team wins a game, that remains the ongoing mission.
What’s interesting about this remark is that he repeated it again after Friday’s game. Though his team lost and really wasn’t in the game for most of it, Plott still saw enough that he was willing to make the claim again.
These are calculated words, no doubt said as a way to motivate. But this belief has to be a source of solace in this young season.
If Woodland is indeed better than it was last year, that means that an elusive win after an almost two-year drought is within reach.
With all things considered, that has to be somewhat comforting heading into next week, even if it comes after a loss.
FEELING SPECIAL — There weren't many positives Adairsville could take from its 48-7 loss to Ridgeland on Friday night.
One of the few areas the Tigers did do well in was special teams. After the Panthers scored to open the game, senior Travon Branch returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to set Adairsville up in Ridgeland territory.
He later had a 31-yard return before the Panthers began kicking away from him.
The Tigers' coverage team did not do well covering the opening kickoff, but it did a good job of rallying to the football on punt coverage. One punt return in the second half ended with roughly six players taking down the Ridgeland returner for virtually no gain.
Josh Honea, who handles kicking and punting duties, showed a fairly strong leg on Friday.
He also showed great poise when after a bouncing snap on a punt attempt. Honea managed to field the ball and get the punt off cleanly.
The senior had a 40-yard field goal clank off the upright on Adairsville's opening possession. Honea, who made his only point-after try, also attempted a 35-yarder midway through the fourth quarter that was unsuccessful.
The bad snap was the only special teams mistake Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop could point to after the game.
"I thought we did a really good job on special teams," he said. "Especially when you consider we only did some kicking with no defensive push in the scrimmage last week. I thought, aside from the one bad snap, we played them evenly on special teams."
—Daily Tribune News staffers Andrew Houghton, Evan Greenberg and Nicholas Sullivan contributed to this report.