Simultaneously, Cartersville's offense -- the one that was shut out in its first game a week ago and showed little sign of life -- exploded as the Purple Hurricanes brushed aside a bad memory while manhandling the state's No. 7-ranked Tigers in high school football Friday night, 24-0.
Defensively, Cartersville allowed a paltry 168 yards in combined yards on the evening, highlighted by one series in which the Tigers drove to the Canes' 1-yard line only to get thrown backward and have to settle for a field goal try -- which they missed.
Just a week ago, Cartersville was at the numbing end of a 12-0 shutout at the hands of Pepperell and the difference in its performance pleased head coach Frank Barden.
"I'm proud of the way they responded [to the loss]," Barden said. "They took it personal. They took it as this is what's going to define them. Defensively they came out and pitched a shutout on a very good Darlington offense. Offensively they controlled the clock, got first downs and played a tough, physical ball game. That's what we've got to do."
The Canes sent a strong signal early that they were clicking on all cylinders against Darlington. Running back Brandon Long gained 14 yards of real estate and their initial first down of the evening on two rushes. Four running plays moved the ball to the Tiger 40 where quarterback Tyler Will found wide receiver Trey Graves open at the 28 and the senior found a crease that carried him to the 11-yard line to complete a 29-yard pass play. Four plays later Preston Slemp made the Canes' first score of the game and season with a 22-yard field goal, giving them a 3-0 lead to cap an 11-play drive.
The two teams exchanged punts and Darlington used a mixture of runs and passes to advance to the Cane 1-yard line on its third series of the night, the deepest penetration coming on a run by Tiger quarterback Brad Butler, leaving Darlington facing a first-and-goal situation.
Butler was thrown for a two-yard loss on second-and-goal, then the next play failed to gain when a Darlington pass was caught out of bounds. The field goal try missed.
The Canes drew strength from the goal line quickly, with six running plays -- the longest a 10-yard keeper by Will -- pushing the ball to their 40. Freshman Kalin Heath then zigged right through the line for about seven yards and took a sudden left that let him complete a 60-yard touchdown play. Slemp added the extra point and the Canes carried the 10-0 lead into the halftime locker.
Midway through the third quarter, Cartersville took full control when Will connected with sophomore wide receiver T.L. Ford for a 15-yard touchdown and the Canes were up 17-0 after the PAT was added.
A Cartersville drive early in the fourth ended when Darlington intercepted a pass at its own 4.
The Canes returned the favor later in the period when Hayes Linn got his hands on a Butler pass around the 15 and advanced to the Tiger 5 before he was tackled. Will called his own number two plays later and scored the game's final touchdown from one yard out, closing scoring at 24-0 after Slemp's final PAT.
Barden gave credit for the victory to the practice and play of the team after its loss to Pepperell.
"We went out and worked hard Monday through Friday," he said. "This is a step forward. This team needed to establish its identity and who they are. They're a new football team. This was an opportunity tonight to come out and say, 'Hey, this is who we are.'"
He said a key ingredient was the older players stepping up.
He said the senior-laden offensive line also had a big role, especially in letting the Canes control the clock by moving the chains.
"We have seniors up front in our offensive line and that's what we have to do. We have to get first downs."
Barden said though the win showed a lot of progress, the hard work remains if the Canes are to have a successful season.
"It's obviously a boost, a step," he said. "We had to get to point A before we get to point B. I'm just proud of the way our kids responded to last week's game. They worked very hard in practice and played very well tonight."
Cartersville (1-1) visits LaFayette Friday night. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
SCORING BY QUARTERS
1 2 3 4 F
DAR 0 0 0 0 0
CAR 3 7 7 7 24
CAR -- Preston Slemp 22-yd FG, 6:03
CAR -- Kalin Heath 60-yd run (Slemp kick), 5:50
CAR -- T.L. Ford 5-yd pass from Tyler Will (Slemp kick), 7:32
CAR -- Will 1-yd run (Slemp kick), 0:33
First downs 10 7
Rushes-yds 30-82 37-168
Passing yds 86 87
Comp-Att-Int 8-19-1 4-7-1
Total yds 168 255
Penalties 4-30 3-20
Punts-yds 7-242 4-145
Rushing -- Cartersville: Brandon Long 11-26, Kalin Heath 3-65, Tyler Will 4-11, Trey Graves 9-32, Randy Long 3-12, Marcus Jones 6-13; Darlington: Brad Butler 14-28, Cedric Spivey, 12-52, Chandler Dugan 1-(-3), No. 36 2-4.
Passing -- Cartersville: Will 4-7-87-1-1; Darlington: Butler 9-19-86-0-1.
Receiving -- Cartersville: Graves 2-62, T.L. Ford 1-15, Elijah Windom 1-10; Darlington: Matthews 5-48, Cameron Gibson 3-22, Sam Hait 1-16.