Cartersville (3-3, 1-1 Region 7B-AAA) aims to keep the good times rolling Friday night when it welcomes winless Murray County (0-6, 0-2) to Bartow County for homecoming.
“Our main focus is to get better. It was good to be back home last week. It was good to get a win that was important in the region,” Canes coach Frank Barden said.
The longtime leader of the Cartersville football program knows his players will partake in many of the festivities associated with homecoming week but does not believe it will draw from their focus.
“They’ve been pretty good about that over the years,” Barden said. “[We] try to let ’em enjoy the week from 8 [a.m.] to 3 [p.m.] but when you come down to the field house, you just try to separate it. They have a pretty good grasp of how you practice Monday through Thursday is how you’ll play Friday.”
Last Friday the Canes exploded for 24 second-half points, after leading by a single touchdown at halftime, as they flexed a balanced offensive attack. Cartersville rushed for 130 yards and added 224 passing yards. Starting quarterback Tyler Will went 9 of 17 for 186 yards and two TDs, Elijah Windom had three grabs for 99 yards and two scores, and Brandon Long had 74 rushing yards on 14 carries.
“We gotta be able to run it and throw it. The big thing we’ve been emphasizing is consistency … staying in positive plays and not [beating] yourselves with penalties and turnovers,” Barden said.
The team, he said, has to control what it can control, which is its effort. The Canes entered the season with youth at some offensive skill positions but has gotten better since Week 1.
“It’s been good,” Barden said of the offense’s improvement. “There’s been some inconsistencies early, but we’re getting better and steadier at that.”
The Cartersville head coach said when players get to the latter part of the season they almost have a full year under their belts and are closer to being sophomores than freshmen and so on.
The Indians’ young players likely are better too, but it has been a long season for a Murray County team affected by the existence of third-year school North Murray as the graduation of many key guys from the 2010 Indians team.
“They’re a young football team because they built the new school in North Murray and had 27 seniors last year,” Barden said of Murray County, which he noted still has some good players. “[They have] typical Murray County players that are going to play hard [and] are going to hit you. … They’ve been able to take the ball and keep it for long drives at times.”
Barden pointed out that his defense must be able to get three-and-outs.
“They’re playing well. They’re playing hard and in a position and a scheme that they’ve played in now six, seven, eight weeks and that helps. The biggest thing is you got some kids that are playing hard, they’re doing what they’re coached to do,” he said of the Canes’ defense, which scored a touchdown last week on a Maina Kariuki’s 35-yard interception return — the defense’s second score of the year. Defensive end Devin O’Connor also had a game-sealing interception return — from 88 yards out — in a Week 4 win over Ringgold.
The defense, which has two shutouts on the season, has maintained its high level of play all year, and the offense seems to be hitting its stride.
“We have to continue to put points on the board and get more consistent on that side of the ball,” Barden said.
In the shutout victory against the Bobcats, Cartersville showed depth at its offensive skill positions with backup QB Brooks Barden, running back Kalin Heath and wide receiver T.L. Ford helping the offense pick up first downs when the starters were out.
“I think last week we had planned on it, and the score was 7-0 when we did it. We said in the second quarter we were going to do it, and we’re going to do it again this week,” Frank Barden said of inserting his reserves. “We plan on doing it again. We feel comfortable with those guys doing it again … and giving a different look to the defense we’re playing.”
The only thing ailing the Canes at the moment appears to be injuries, and Barden would not say which players would be available for tonight.
“We lost T.J. [Barden] at center in the Allatoona game, then [linebacker] Ricky [Beachum] had a concussion in that game and missed last week. [Linebacker] Marcus Jones missed last week. Rodney Michell, one of our other linemen, missed last week,” Cartersville’s coach said. “That’s kind of where we are and we’ll see what happens.”
The Canes are scheduled to kick off their game with the Indians at 7:30 p.m. at Weinman Stadium.