Most high school football teams would struggle to replace the production of an injured Division-I commit. The Cartersville football team is apparently not one of them.
When senior defensive lineman and Wake Forest commit Isaiah Chaney was injured early in the Canes’ Region 5-AAAA slate, the rest of the unit stepped up to make sure Cartersville didn’t miss a beat.
Sophomore Jesse Grogan picked up a majority of the vacated snaps and acclimated himself well. On the opposite side of the three-man front, senior Bobby Harris elevated his play to incredible heights. Meanwhile, junior nose guard La’Kwayme Jupiter remained his typical run-stuffing self in the middle.
For their efforts, Harris and Jupiter both landed on the all-region first team, as announced earlier this week. Harris had a robust stat line, including 39 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Jupiter added 26 stops, including four in the backfield.
Cartersville head coach Joey King said he was proud of the way his D-linemen rose to the occasion with Chaney, who earned all-region second-team honors, on the sideline.
“Those guys have done a great job,” King said. “Kwayme is so strong inside. He’s a 600-plus-pound squatter, and he’ll often occupy two [linemen], which frees our linebackers up to run and make tackles.
“I think Bobby has five or six sacks on the year and 15 or 16 tackles for loss. He’s done a really, really good job for us, too.”
Added King, “Jesse Grogan has played well in [Chaney’s] absence, and Jesse played well this past Friday night. To have him playing like he has, as a sophomore, has been great for us.”
The importance of winning the line of scrimmage to Cartersville’s success on defense can’t be overstated. With just three down linemen, the Canes have the responsibility to stay at home more than a lot of other D-linemen.
Even still, on passing downs, Cartersville’s ability to get pressure on the quarterback — whether or not it results in a sack — is paramount to helping out the secondary.
All told, the defensive front is a big reason why the Canes are allowing, on average, just six points, eight first downs, 64 rushing yards and 75 passing yards per game.
“It all starts right there with the pressure in our run game, freeing up those backers to run around and make plays,” King said of the D-line. “… A lot of times, we just ask them to keep the offensive line off the next level. There will be several situations that they don’t get acknowledged for, but those guys are just as unselfish as offensive linemen.”
After missing four games, Chaney made his return in the final regular-season game last week against Troup County.
Every time Chaney missed a contest, he was still on the sideline in full uniform with his teammates. He liked what he saw out of his teammates but, frankly, expected it.
Grogan’s performance, though, really impressed him.
“They did good, but that’s just the standard,” Chaney said. “With me being out, I feel like it just fueled more fire in them to get the job done. Jesse, he filled in for me, and I was really proud of him. I talked to him every day after practice and after the games, giving him some pep talks. … That’s my boy.”
While Chaney did get to play on what was senior night for the Canes, he still had his reps limited, King said. The decision to work Chaney back slowly was made easier by the nature of a game that got out of hand early, as Cartersville cruised to a 43-10 win in the de facto region championship game.
It’s likely Chaney won’t see a full allotment of snaps this week, either. With undefeated Cartersville hosting 5-5 Stephens County in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, the Canes should be able to rest most of their starters in the second half.
Chaney, who finished the regular season with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, was still excited to be back on the field with his teammates.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “I’d been out quite some time. I missed playing with my boys. Even though I was out, I was still there with them. I felt like I was still on the field in spirit. I was out there cheering my boys on, because that’s what you have to do, even when you’re out.
“But it felt great being back playing. I had a great week of practice. I felt like everyone was glad to have me back, but I was glad to be back myself.”
While King and Chaney agreed that his presence back on the field seemed to give the team a lift, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound future ACC player didn’t believe his absence hurt the team.
If anything, it just allowed an already talented Cartersville team to build some more depth entering the playoffs.
“Collectively, we have a good team, so me being out didn’t really hurt us,” Chaney said, conceding he’ll likely be on snap count again Friday. “I feel like they just missed my presence being out there. It’s OK with me as long as we get the job done on Fridays. It’s a team win; it’s not just a one-man sport. … I know Jesse is going to hold it down for me.”