Tigers look to show progress in season opener

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Adairsville High head football coach Eric Bishop was not pleased with his team's scrimmage performance last week at Woodland in a 37-10 loss.

According to Bishop, that performance was not indicative of how well his team had prepared in the weight room and on the practice field since spring ball.

As a result, he is expecting the Tigers to look much better in the season opener Friday against Chattooga at 7:30 p.m. in Tiger Stadium.

"It goes without saying, our kids know that we did not perform as well as we were capable of last week, and that's not taking anything away from Woodland," Bishop said. "... The thing that I'm most impressed with is that the kids owned up to it. … We had a great week of practice.

"Our goal is to simply prove to our community that we're better than what we were last week. I'm not sure if that is good enough for a win, but we're not worried about wins and losses right now. I'm really less worried about Chattooga and a win than I am really wanting our kids to play up to their potential."

The Chattooga Indians are a Class 2A school coming off a 4-7 season and a playoff appearance in 2017. The team from Summerville will be looking for its fifth-consecutive playoff appearance this year.

Adairsville and Chattooga have played each other 11 times since 1990, with the Indians winning six of those matchups, including the last four. The two teams were in the same region from 2002-09 and, in 2007, Chattooga's 35-7 win in the ninth game of the regular season would be what ultimately left Adairsville one game short of a playoff berth, despite a 7-3 record for the Tigers.

This year, Chattooga returns its quarterback, Clayton Johnson; top rusher, E.J. Lackey; and top receiver, Devin Price. Price, according to Bishop, is the biggest threat on the field. He accounted for 814 total yards of offense as a receiver and runner in 2017.

"By far, their best player on the field is No. 2 [Price]," Bishop said. "He's the best athlete. No. 2 kind of does it all for them, plays both ways when they need him to. He's an offensive weapon for them. He's the Wildcat quarterback when they go to the Wildcat package. He's the go-to receiver when they go to their spread-I, hybrid-I, H-back stuff. He's the guy they're going to throw the ball to."

According to Bishop, Chattooga is similar to Woodland in that the Indians will alternate between a power running team and a spread offense, running polar opposite offenses over the course of the game.

Defensively, Malachi Mack, No. 46, has been receiving some attention from college coaches and is the defensive player Adairsville will have to pay attention to. He is a defensive end in Chattooga's four-man front.

 "That's a lot like what we saw against Woodland," Bishop said of Chattooga's defensive scheme. "Woodland rolled their safeties down and got them really involved in the run game. There's not that much variation on defense, as compared to offense."

As is always the case for the first game of the season, the scouting report for Adairsville's opponent is based off little game film. As a result, Bishop has preached the importance of in-game adjustments and communication from the press box to the sideline to the field.

"It's very different from your typical game week during the season, because all you have is the scrimmage," Bishop said. "There's barely over a half of film to go off of. As a coaching staff, you do a lot of assuming. We really don't know where to go.

"This Friday night and leading into the Cass game [next week] will really test our in-game adjustments from the kids' and the coaches' standpoint. Can we make adjustments to what we do as a coaching staff? And can the kids translate that to execution on the field? ... It will be really interesting to see how our kids respond to what we don't know about Chattooga."

The big question mark for Adairsville will be how much the Tigers use junior quarterback Derrick Simmons, who is expected to play a big role for the Tigers this season as a quarterback, slotback and cornerback. Simmons was ejected from the scrimmage at Woodland for an altercation after an interception.

According to the Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-laws, By-law 2.00 Section 2.72 (h), "When a player or coach is ejected from a pre-season scrimmage (i.e., a practice game) in any sport, the school shall be fined a minimum of $250 and there will be no sit-out penalties imposed."

Bishop said Simmons has been receiving reps all over the field in practice and has "had a great attitude, and he's ready to make this right," but did not say if Simmons would play Friday.

"What I did find out was that there is a rule pertaining specifically to ejections in scrimmage games," Bishop said. "We met with Derrick and his parents, and we're going to abide by those restrictions. There might be additional restrictions we put on him, but he will not be out there on the first snap, I can tell you that.

"It is a crying shame he was in the situation he was in at the moment he was and the way he reacted, but he has accepted full responsibility for that and is willing to pay the consequences with whatever is levied upon him. I don't know, at this point, how much he will play, if he plays at all. It's our goal to get him back out there and show this community and everyone else that's not how he wants to represent himself or his school or his community."

Whether Simmons plays or not, the non-region game will not factor into whether the Tigers make the state playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. The games with major playoff implications — namely Calhoun, Sonoraville and Ringgold — will all take place in October. Still, Bishop would like to see his team show progress with a rivalry game coming up against Cass on Aug. 24.

"This is a growth thing," Bishop said. "You want to win every game, and we're going take the field to win the game, no doubt about it. We're going to try find ways to win the game, but this is about our road to a progression path to reach the potential of our team. That's really the goal this week."

— DTN staff reporter Nicholas Sullivan contributed to this report.