State Finals: Canes clash with Titans

Cartersville (2015 and 2016) and Blessed Trinity (2017) have combined to win the last three Georgia High School Association Class AAAA state championships and the two programs will clash again Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. for the 2018 title at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Cartersville is 55-1 over the past four seasons and the Hurricanes’ only loss in that stretch was 21-17 to Blessed Trinity in the second round of the state playoffs last year. The loss to the Titans ended a Canes’ 41-game winning streak.

The Cartersville four-year mark is the best in GHSA history since West Rome’s 59-1 run in 1982 through 1985. The Canes (14-0) have advanced to their third state final in four seasons and this time it is without five-star recruit and now starting quarterback for Clemson — Trevor Lawrence. The team also lost 17 other seniors from a year ago including special teams weapon and placekicker Jonathan Cruz. Cartersville also replaced four assistant coaches but the Hurricanes have navigated the 2018 campaign without a blemish. "We heard it a lot in the preseason," said Canes' head coach Joey King (photo). "Everybody wanted to know how good we would be without Trevor. They called it a rebuilding year. These kids refused to listen to that, however, and the standard here remained the same. The coaches and players refuse to set limits on what they can achieve. They embrace that attitude every day." The arrival to this year’s finals was not without drama, however. There were a handful of close games including a one-point win at Cedartown and a 7-0 win over Sandy Creek prior to the come-from-behind win over Marist. Cartersville trailed 14-10 to Marist in the semifinals’ fourth quarter when quarterback Tee Webb connected with Devonte Ross with 7:51 remaining to take the lead for good. The defense then made another crucial stop to preserve the victory as the Hurricanes overcame four turnovers in the contest.

Following the comeback win, head coach Joey King said it was nothing new for this team.

"A reporter asked me what I learned about my players from that [Marist] game,” King told Georgia High School Football Daily. “It is not that the win was emotional, but rather the fact that I did not learn anything that I did not already know about this team. I have been extremely proud of how these young men have fought and how they have really come together as a team throughout the year.”

Defending state champs Blessed Trinity (14-0) got 240 rushing yards and three touchdowns from running back Steele Chambers to hold off Troup in the semifinals, 51-35. Chambers also threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Davis.

The Titans’ Jake Smith threw touchdown passes of 95 and 36 yards to James Bryant and ran 9 yards for a score in the victory. Blessed Trinity led 32-6 late in the first half but Troup eventually cut the lead to 37-27 in the third quarter. The Tigers got no closer, however, at Blessed Trinity reached the state finals for the third time in four years.

Wednesday’s AAAA championship game also features two of the top coaches in Georgia. Cartersville’s coach Joey King has compiled a 67-3 (.957) mark in his first six seasons as the Canes’ top man. The record is the best of any Georgia coach since World War II.

King, who coordinated a run-based Wing-T offense at Carrollton before arriving in Cartersville, became the fastest Georgia head coach to 50 victories utilizing a high-tech passing game featuring Lawrence.

Blessed Trinity head coach Tim McFarlin was a quarterback and defensive back at Milton. He was also a 16-year assistant at Roswell before becoming the Hornets' head coach. He is now one of 15 head coaches in GHSA history to win state titles at two schools. His Roswell team won the 2006 Class 5A title and his current defending state champion Titans are 88-19-1 in eight seasons.

King knows the challenges of facing Blessed Trinity.

"They are extremely talented, well-coached, and they play hard,” King told Georgia High School Football Daily. “Tim [McFarlin] and his staff do a great job and get their players to execute really well. Coaching is not always about what you know, but what you can get your players to know. Having talented players that are well-coached is a dangerous combination.”

Smith has thrown for 1,777 yards this season and Ryan Davis has 840 receiving yards. Chambers — an Ohio State commit — has rushed for over 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. He is also the Titans' second-leading tackler with 46.

Webb, a junior, has thrown for 2,726 yards and 35 touchdowns this season for Cartersville. Senior running back Marcus Gary has 1,456 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ross, who scored both Canes' touchdowns against Marist, has emerged as a leading target to go with Tennessee-commit and tight end, Jackson Lowe. The Canes also sport the top scoring defense in Class AAAA, allowing just 7.21 points per game. Linebackers Harrison Allen and Sunni Moorehead along with defensive lineman Bobby Harris have been impressive and the corp of young defensive backs has developed at a rapid pace.

The Maxwell ratings projection has Blessed Trinity as a three-point favorite. The CalPreps projection has the Titans as a one-point favorite.

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Cartersville, Georgia