Coach Joey King’s Cartersville Purple Hurricanes football team opens defense of their 2015 Class AAAA State title Friday night at Weinman Stadium when the Chestatee War Eagles arrive for a 7:30pm kickoff.
The Canes’ coach is in his third season at the helm and has his 2016 team heading into the state playoffs on a 25-game winning streak.
Cartersville won the 2015 state championship by going 15-0. They have since completed another 10-0 regular season and won their region championship for a school-record fifth year in a row.
Their opponent in the first round is a team on an upswing, despite going only 4-6 this season.
Chestatee was only 1-19 the previous two seasons, but got off to a good start this year before their region slate began.
War Eagles’ first-year head coach, Shaun Conley, led his team to three wins in their first five games. Chestatee collected wins over East Hall, Fannin County, and Lumpkin County to start the season, 3-2. Their non-region losses were to North Hall, Flowery Branch, and Habersham Central.
Chestatee is the No. 4 seed from Region 7-AAAA and needed only one region win in the five-school league to earn a state playoff berth. They defeated White County on October 21 to accomplish that feat, but suffered region losses this season to West Hall, Blessed Trinity, and Marist.
Coach King explained on the Bartow Sports Zone radio show Friday morning on WBHF that Chestatee will present some resistance for the Canes. “They do some good things that could give us problems,” said King. “They have a good grasp of what they are trying to do offensively and they like to bring pressure defensively from time to time, so that could cause problems.”
Chestatee has revamped their style of offense from previous years under Conley. “They’ve completely changed their style of play," noted King. They’ve gone through a culture change and it has been good for them. They have run the split-back veer in the past, but now they have gone to an uptempo spread game. They've been about 50-50 — percentage wise — run to pass.”
Junior Storm Yarborough is the quarterback of a fairly balanced offensive attack that has averaged nearly as many passing attempts as rushing attempts this year. Yarborough’s top target is senior Baylee Camp, who has 871 yards on 54 receptions.
The War Eagles’ top player of note this season, however, has been 6’1”, 200 pound, junior running back, Nick Lyles.
“Lyles is a quality kick returner and a really good running back,” coach King pointed out. “He even plays a little bit in the defensive backfield. He’s just a good football player.”
The Eagles’ odd-front defense is led by senior linebacker, Austin Gean. He leads Chestatee in tackles at over 15 per game. Moises Cuevas (6-5, 285) is also impressive along the War Eagles’ defensive front.
Heavy favorites going into the game, the Canes will focus on themselves and strive toward their ultimate goal — another state championship.
“We want to be better than we were the day before and better than we were the play before,” noted the Canes’ head coach. “We emphasize to the kids every day that any team can beat you on a given day, so you have to put your hard hat on and be ready to work every day.”
“Our kids are ready for the challenge,” King concluded.