RED LIGHT IN THE RED ZONE — After a methodical start offensively to Friday’s game, the Cartersville football team relied on big plays to blow open a tight contest with Allatoona in the second quarter.
It was a smart strategy for head coach Joey King to deploy given the Canes’ struggles in the red zone recently.
Now, of course, King, who handles the play-calling duties, didn’t know when he dialed up a handoff to Marcus Gary at the 46-yard line or a screen pass to Gary from midfield that his senior running back would finish both plays in the end zone.
The only major deficiency — and even that might be a stretch — Cartersville has shown this far into the young season has been an inability to finish off drives in the red zone.
The Canes had three trips inside the 5-yard line end with no points against Dalton in a scrimmage on Aug. 10.
In the immediate aftermath of the game and in the lead up to Friday’s season opener, King made it known his team didn’t show everything it has in the playbook for those situations.
Well, the Canes showed a different wrinkle against the Bucs, employing a jumbo package with defensive linemen coming on the field to help in short-yardage situations.
It worked well on a third-and-short play early in the game, but it wasn’t enough to see Cartersville punch in the ball later in the possession.
All told, the Canes finished the evening 1-for-3 in red zone opportunities. One drive ended in a missed field goal, one ended in an interception and one ended with a touchdown by Quante Jennings.
Across two games, the varsity squad has scored seven touchdowns. (The backups scored twice against Dalton.)
Five of those scores have come from outside the red zone. Meanwhile, the team, again just the varsity, has converted just twice among the seven drives that made it inside the opponent’s 20.
Chances are the Canes will improve in the goal-to-go situations, especially as Tee Webb and Gary get more experience.
At some point, it’s going to be imperative for King’s men to take advantage of those opportunities. So far, though, it hasn’t cost an incredibly impressive Cartersville.
QUESTIONS ANSWERED — Other than pointing to the red zone issues, it’s hard to temper expectations for Cartersville after one regular season game.
Expected to take a step back in 2018, while remaining among the favorites in Class 4A, the second-ranked Canes exceeded all expectations Friday in shutting out Class 6A’s No. 7 team, Allatoona.
A lot of question marks on the roster passed their first test with flying colors.
The linebacking corps was a big unknown entering the season. But after a solid showing in the scrimmage, Harrison Allen and Sunni Moorehead showed up in a big way Friday combining for 23 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
Given the impossible task of replacing Jonathan Cruz, kicker Oscar Hernandez also impressed in his first varsity start. He made all five of his point-after attempts Friday, as well as during the scrimmage at Dalton.
Despite seeing his first kick of the night strike the upright on a 20-yard field goal attempt, Hernandez bounced back to show a strong leg. He boomed a couple of kickoffs into the end zone and another pair right to the edge of the goal line.
Webb and Gary also looked nice in their debuts, but both had shown flashes in the scrimmage, keeping the performances from being big surprises.
However, the biggest difference between the games against Dalton and Allatoona was undoubtedly the offensive line.
All five made their first regular-season starts and showed vast improvement from the scrimmage to Week 1.
King challenged the unit in the week preceding the game against the Bucs. It responded with a dominant showing. Gary looked great in the open field and Webb showed poise beyond his limited experience, but make no mistake, the O-line was the key to everything Cartersville did offensively Friday.
After the game, both star players credited the boys up front for their success.
"I thank God for them," Gary said of the offensive line. "They really blocked their butts off today."