It's often said that defense wins championships, but it was proven this week that they also lead to victories in scrimmage games.
Three of the four teams in Bartow County did not allow a touchdown while the starters were on the field. Two of them didn't allow an offensive touchdown, period.
It's a good sign for units that will be leaned on heavily, especially early in the year.
Cartersville and Woodland, in particular, need standout defenses to help overcome the breaking in of new starting quarterbacks. Both programs showed that during their respective scrimmage wins over Dalton and Adairsville.
"I thought our defense did a good job, and they're going to do a good job week in and week out," Canes head coach Joey King said. "That's what we hang our hat on is playing good defense."
As for the Wildcats and head coach Tony Plott, Thursday's performance against a county rival was impressive.
Defensive stalwarts Titus Jones and Austin Potter had nine tackles apiece with Potter chipping in a pass breakup, tackle-for-loss and forced fumble. Blake Cash recovered two fumbles and returned one for a touchdown.
"Our defense, I thought , was very physical at times," Plott said. "That's what we want out of them. That's a good group of guys back there. Our back seven is probably as good as anybody around, I think, right now."
Frankly, the performance surprised Plott in a good way.
"They proved me wrong in a good way, because I really didn't think the week that we had leading up to tonight was very good," Plott said. "One of the coaches mentioned, well, maybe they're just ready to hit someone else. I agree with that statement now."
ADAIRSVILLE OFFENSE GOES MISSING — Despite losing several key contributors, the Adairsville offense seemed poised to give Woodland a stiff challenge Thursday. And while the Wildcats deserve plenty of credit for their effort on the defensive side of the ball, it was a night to forget for the Tigers.
With one of the most dynamic players in the county in Mason Boswell returning after having separated himself during a QB competition last season, the team has the potential to be explosive in Class 3A. It looked very much a work in progress during the scrimmage.
Boswell made some plays, but wasn't able to string enough together to keep pace with Woodland. Derrick Simmons showed flashes of potential at quarterback, but a sequence of frustration, culminating in throwing a punch at a Woodland player, led to him being ejected.
"It's really sad and disappointing that he had to come out of the game the way he did, because, again, it didn't show the work that he's put in," Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop said of Simmons. "He didn't get to display that. ... He wasn't allowed to do that and rightfully so. It's just a crying shame. He put himself in that situation, and he'll have to live with the consequences now, as will our team."
It's unknown whether Simmons will be forced to miss a game following the ejection.
"We'll wait to see how that comes out," Bishop said. "I don't know how it's going to come out."
Even if Simmons has to sit out a week, there is still plenty of potential in the Tigers offense.
Boswell will rarely be as bottled up as he was (and he still managed 70 rushing yards in the first half); Landon Ayers showed promise as a hard-nosed back; and Chris Rodriguez looks set for a big year running, catching and kicking the football.
Still, the lack of offense Thursday at Wildcat Stadium was a big surprise to Bishop.
"We sputtered on offense, and I'm really shocked by it," he said. "That's what we talked about at halftime. The thing I'm most disappointed in is not our kids' performance as much as it is that people didn't get to see tonight how hard they've worked to get to where they're at. ... They know they didn't play up to expectations tonight — theirs or ours as a coaching staff."
CANES' RED-ZONE WOES LIEKLY A FLUKE — It was the most glaring problem an inexperienced Cartersville team showed in a rather easy win over Dalton, but the inability to score in the red zone appears to be more a creation of circumstance than anything else.
The Canes turned the ball over on downs twice and also lost a fumble on a bad snap from the 1-yard line. Despite the concerning trend in an incredibly small sample size, Cartersville likely would have walked away with at least six points — kicking a couple of field goals — had it been a regular-season game.
King didn't seem overly concerned by the lack of production when the field tightened up. He pointed to the fact that the Canes didn't exactly empty the playbook in a game with no real ramifications.
"Our goal is 100 percent points in the red zone," King said. "There's some things that we didn't bring into this game that we're going to do in certain situations, but we had to go with what we practiced. We hung on to a couple of things. Maybe that cost us, maybe it didn't. I think we'll do a little bit better — or at least I hope we do a little bit better — in the red zone as the season progresses."
A WIN IS A WIN — It might not seem like a 6-3 victory in a scrimmage over a Class 2A school could represent a turning point for the Class 5A Colonels, but considering Cass' last win was in the fourth game of the 2016 season, Friday's scrimmage victory over Pepperell could serve as a morale booster, if nothing else.
Pepperell had gotten the better of Cass in the scrimmage games the past few seasons, but just finding themselves on top on the scoreboard wasn't the only difference between Friday's scrimmage and the last couple of years for the Colonels. The most distinguishing characteristic of the last two years for Cass has been losing close ballgames. Three losses by one possession or less in 2016 were followed by three more in 2017, and that's not including other games that were close before a late touchdown by the opponent made the score look more lopsided. For Cass to win one of those close ballgames on Friday, even if it was just a scrimmage, is a welcome change.
Cass is still looking to discover a way to consistently move the ball after averaging just 10 points per game in 2017. While the six points scored Friday might not seem like the Colonels are on their way to a more explosive offense in 2018, there were positive signs on that front as well. Cass briskly moved down the field in the two-minute drill in its last possession of the first half, going 60 yards in seven plays to set up a Kaleb Speights field goal as time expired in the second quarter. Returning starting quarterback Rett Moore looked sharp on the drive, completing two passes for first downs, and threw another well-placed deep ball down the left sideline that could have been caught.
And even though Cass didn't reach the end zone, the Colonels' varsity moved the ball well at times, earning at least one first down on all but one of their five first-half possessions.
The defense also answered some questions in the scrimmage. A solid unit in 2017, the Colonels lost most of their starters and top players at all three levels to graduation. To hold Pepperell to just three points in the game is another positive sign. And, in a scrimmage, positive signs of improvement is the only real win that can be had.
PRESENT, FUTURE LOOK BRIGHT FOR WILDCATS — Woodland has had limited success on the gridiron over the program's relatively short existence.
Things could be changing on that front, and Bishop said he's been impressed with the transformation the Wildcats have gone through under Plott.
"Hats off to coach Plott, he's done a great job since taking over here," Bishop said after Thursday's scrimmage. "He's groomed this team to get them where they're at. Happy for him, this football team and this program. Hats off to him. They're going to be a good football team this year. We knew that coming in. We talked about it as a staff in our staff meetings. This is a group they've really groomed into being a good football team, and they showed it tonight."
While the 2018 season looks set to be one of the program's finest, the cupboard shouldn't be bear moving forward either.
Sophomore quarterback Jakob Foss completed all six of his passes Thursday for 123 yards and one touchdown. His ability to roll out and pass from the Woodland run-based offense and also line up with wide receivers spread out showcased great versatility.
Although, there's always room for improvement.
"He made some good plays, had a couple of great throws, ran the ball hard when we wanted him to," Plott said of Foss. "We have to take better care of the ball than what we did."
With the reserves playing the entire second half, save for the opening drives of the third quarter, it allowed several freshmen to show out for the Wildcats. In particular, the running back combination of Quentin Burgs and Asa James looked promising as future fill-ins for seniors Justice Carter and Demarcus Williams.
"Two of our freshman running backs are incredible," Plott said. "One of them looks like a grown man — No. 44 Quentin Burgs. He had some really good runs, tough runs, where you thought he was tackled and he would just pop out of there. ... No. 34 Asa James, I think, played really well also. We have some young linemen, too, who get after it. Dylan Costlow, one of the freshman linemen, played well. That freshman group is a good group, and we're excited about them."