Last year, the Cass football team used a 9-6 win over Pepperell in a preseason scrimmage to give the team a boost of confidence entering the regular season. It was a much needed lift following a winless season, and the momentum seemed to carry over into the Colonels' regular-season opener -- a 19-10 win over Adairsville.
After ending the 2018 season on a nine-game losing streak, Cass is in need of another pick me up. The Colonels have the opportunity to get one with another preseason meeting against the Dragons at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pepperell.
However, it's easier said than done. Pepperell is coming off a 6-5 season, which included a 5-2 mark in Region 7-AA and a third-place finish in the league. The Dragons exited the Class 2A state playoffs in the first round.
Pepperell signal-caller Gage Moses will enter his junior year after earning first-team all-region recognition as a sophomore. The dual-threat quarterback's top offensive weapon will be Payton Rhoades, whose versatility saw him selected to the all-region squad as a wideout and punter.
"We know they've got some new guys," he said. "They're pretty darn good. Their quarterback is a three-star recruit. A left-handed kid, multi-sport kid, plays center field on the baseball team. He's a really, really talented athlete. They've got another three-star receiver who plays DB, as well. Their noseguard is big and physical. They run really good on defense.
"We're not going to play a scrimmage against a team that isn't good, isn't physical. It's the only way we're going to get ready to play with what we have to face every week."
What Cass has to face week in and week out is the toughest region in Class 5A. Based on preseason Maxwell Ratings, the cream of the crop last year in Region 7-AAAAA -- Rome, Kell and Carrollton -- are projected to be among the top teams in the classification.
Friday's scrimmage will give the first indication as to how competitive the Colonels will be in the loaded league. If 2019 is anything like last year, Cass should be able to hang with every team outside of that upper echelon.
The Colonels suffered five defeats by two scores, while dropping the season finale to Paulding County by a 17-14 final. A few of those two-score losses were within one possession late in the fourth quarter, and those narrow margins have been a major point of emphasis for Hughes.
"We're hoping to see us put some stuff together. We had a really good scrimmage last Friday night," he said of his expectations for the Pepperell scrimmage. "We're breaking some guys in at new positions. Like everybody throughout the state, you're anxious to see what their eyes look like when the real lights come on.
"Other than that, we're looking for consistency and a way to make plays, one or two more than we made last year. That's the difference in ballgames, and we've been stressing that. Somebody else has to make another play; every series somebody has to make another play."
While the regular season (and even Friday's scrimmage) is much different than practice, the early indications are positive for this year's team. Just a few weeks ago, Hughes referred to this past summer as the best he's seen at Cass.
The positive vibes have carried over into fall camp. Now, the Colonels just need to make sure the promising offseason leads to results on the field.
"The product is better, it's more crisp," Hughes said. "We're able to do more things. We're a little more explosive. Those things are all what makes it a little better for us."
As with last season, Cass will have an open date the first week of the regular season, meaning the Colonels won't take the field again until Aug. 30 at Adairsville.
That gives Friday's game some increased importance. Whereas the Tigers, who host Woodland in a scrimmage Friday, will have a road tilt against Chattooga to help prepare them for the Bartow County rivalry game, Cass won't have a similar precursor.
"We love this bunch," Hughes said. "We love their attitude, we love their work ethic and we love their camaraderie. We've got our hands full Friday night. Pepperell is a really good football team. We're excited about the challenge. We're not going to back down from that. We know we'll have two weeks to look at film, make corrections and get ready for Adairsville, when it really matters."