Tee Webb and Marcus Gary each made the first varsity starts of their respective Cartersville careers Friday night in the season opener. As Cartersville head coach Joey King often says, they hadn't been on the field when it was 0-0.
Both looked like seasoned veterans and they also didn't need to be on the field at the end of the night when the Canes finished off an easier-than-anticipated 35-0 victory over visiting Allatoona at Weinman Stadium.
"I'm extremely proud of our guys," King said. "This senior class has won a lot of ballgames here, but we've been saying all week, not many of them have been on the field when it's been 0-0.
"It's their time. They've worked extremely hard. We paid the price in the offseason. I believe we're up there with the best of them in the state, as far as how much work we put in in the offseason. For it to come to fruition in the first game is extremely special."
A junior quarterback, Webb managed the game well, made smart decisions and put up 150 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 7-of-15 passing. All Gary, a senior running back, did was pile up 144 rushing yards, 94 receiving yards and score two 46-plus yard touchdowns.
Could the night have gone any better for Gary?
"Really, no," he said. "I was excited. It was crazy."
Gary carried the load early for the offense, racking up nine carries on the opening drive. He totaled 61 yards on the sequence, but the nearly seven-minute possession ended with no points, despite reaching the 1-yard line, as Oscar Hernandez's field goal struck the right upright.
No. 2-ranked Cartersville (1-0) put the frustrating result behind them, scoring on its next possession. Hernandez put the setback behind himself, too, nailing all five of his extra-point attempts.
"That's our most important thing," said Webb, who is taking over for program legend Trevor Lawrence. "Once one drive is over, we move on to the next drive."
A key play in the game came when Allatoona, ranked No. 6 in Class 6A, was called for roughing the kicker to extend Cartersville's second drive. Given new life, Webb and Co. capitalized.
A few plays after the penalty, facing a third-and-10 from the Bucs' 29, Webb rolled out to his left and threw across his body towards Trendon Horton in the corner of the end zone. A diving attempt — ironically, by Horton's teammate Marko Dudley — neither deflected the ball nor broke the concentration of Horton, who hauled in the team's first touchdown of 2018.
"I thought overall he did a good job," King said of Webb. "I thought he led the offense; he was encouraging folks on the sideline; and I'm definitely pleased with his performance."
The touchdown came less than a minute into the second quarter, and it kicked off what turned into a four-score period for the Canes.
Before that flurry, though, Cartersville let another red zone opportunity go to waste when Webb's tipped pass was intercepted by Allatoona's Izaiah Taylor at the 6-yard line.
But, as it did time and again, the Canes defense came through with a key stop. Senior Isaiah Chaney, who is primed for a breakout season, hauled down quarterback Dante Marshall to force a punt.
"It just keeps us calm the whole time," Webb said of having such a tough defense. "We don't have to worry about going down and scoring a certain number of times or anything like that. It just really helps us out and keeps us calm."
What followed was a three-punch sequence that stunned, staggered and then knocked out the Bucs.
The first jab came from Gary. On the first play after a punt, he took off up the middle before breaking to the outside for a stunning, 46-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter.
The second shot came from Webb and Gary. Following a turnover on downs at midfield, the Canes ran a perfectly executed screen pass. Gary caught the ball, used several nice blocks downfield to sneak inside the pylon for a 50-yard touchdown.
The knockout blow came from Dudley. Just two snaps after Gary's second score, Dudley jumped a route and turned the game into a rout with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"I told them at the beginning of the game, you're going to have to take what they give you in terms of the big plays," King said. "It's not a situation where we were necessarily looking for the big plays. It's just about chopping wood, taking what they give you and eventually the big plays happen."
Poised with a 28-0 lead, Cartersville looked to mostly burn the clock in the second half. Webb attempted just five passes over the final two stanzas after going 6-for-10 in the opening 24 minutes.
Meanwhile, Gary carried the ball six times for 33 yards after the halftime interval. He gave way to Quante Jennings early in the fourth quarter, and the promising sophomore looked capable of contributing this season with seven rushes for 41 yards and a 4-yard touchdown.
The importance of opening the season with a victory was not lost on King. For Cartersville to defeat such a tough opponent in such convincing fashion, it's a nearly perfect start to the season.
"We want to get there one game at a time," King said. "This was the toughest opponent this week, because this was the only one that mattered. Now, we're going into the open week. We're going to try to find some things on film that we can get better at and get ready for the next one. That's what it's all about."
Jennings' score started a running clock that shortened the wait for the Canes' postgame celebration. It culminated with members of the community congratulating Webb, Gary and their teammates on the field at Weinman Stadium.
One fan and his shy grandson approached Webb. The man handed the signal-caller a Blow Pop saying, "My grandson wants to give you that sucker for [playing] such a great game."
Based on his performance Friday, there could be plenty more sweet treats in Webb's future.