The parallels between the football teams at Cass and Forsyth Central are hard to ignore.
Both programs entered 2018 in the exact same position, having lost 16 consecutive games. Neither team had won since Sept. 16, 2016, when the Colonels defeated Hiram and the Bulldogs beat Duluth.
It took just one game this year, though, for each side to end their respective losing streaks.
Forsyth Central kicked off the season with a 42-7 rout of Chamblee on Aug. 17. Cass ended its winning drought last week with a 19-10 triumph over Adairsville. Those are the only games the two teams have played thus far, meaning one of the teams will put together consecutive victories for the first time in nearly two years.
The similarities don’t end with common backstories. They extend to what the teams look to do offensively with Cass head coach Bobby Hughes saying Forsyth Central has a likeminded philosophy on that side of the ball.
“Of course, we want to stress getting them off the field and getting the ball back,” Hughes said. “They want to do exactly what we want to do. They want to control the ball, control the time of possession. It’s going to be a battle of wills in that regard.”
Unlike its opener against Class 3A Adairsville, Class 5A Cass will be fighting a few levels above its weight class against Class 7A Forsyth Central.
“They’ve got 30 seniors, so they’re experienced,” Hughes said. ‘They’re a big 7A school, so they dress like 110 or 115 kids. It looks like a small army.”
Three of those privates are quarterbacks who could possibly see some time against the Colonels. Hunter Cagle started Forsyth Central’s scrimmage, but he missed last week’s game due to injury. Ryan Vanuum started instead against Chamblee with Bronson Landreth also having gotten some reps along the way.
The team with the more potent running game will almost certainly emerge victorious when the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Cumming.
Last week, Adairsville struggled to establish the run against Cass, and it put the Tigers behind the chains on several occasions. The Colonels, meanwhile, controlled the game through its methodical rushing attack. It eventually led to an opening up of the playbook in the second half.
“I think we were able to stay really balanced,” Hughes said. “Our ability to run it early opened up some things in the passing game for us. It’s kind of cliche, but everyone always says, ‘The more balanced you can stay, you keep people off balance.’ We want to try to get better at the stuff that we’ve been doing and not try to do stuff we’re not necessarily good at.”
Forsyth Central is built to hold up against an offense like the one Cass possesses with defensive linemen holding the edge, forcing backs to cut inside towards help.
“We expect to see a 4-3 out of them,” Hughes said of the Bulldogs defense. “They have some really good defensive ends. No. 47 [Alex Szakacs], their strong side defensive end is a big kid. He looks like he’s about 6-3, 215 or 220 maybe. No. 40 [Jackson Leak], on the other side, is a long, lean kid. He’s very active, athletic. That presents problems in itself.”
Heading into the Adairsville game, Hughes was worried about the Tigers’ advantage of getting to improve between their first two games.
This time around, even though his team is now in that position, he still feels like his players are at a disadvantage. This time Hughes believes the scale tips in Forsyth Central’s favor due to the Bulldogs having last week off to heal up and prepare for the Colonels.
As a coach of a team which suffered through such a long losing run, Hughes has become adept at finding any way to see the odds stacked against his guys.
It’s not a way to look for an easy excuse, but rather a chance to lend more credence the “us against the world” narrative. Even after winning last week, Hughes is still doing it. It’s something his counterpart Frank Hepler, who has been at Forysth Central through all the trials and tribulations, too, is likely still doing as well.
For one coach, it will get harder to continue playing the underdog card after a win Friday night.