For the second consecutive year, the Carrollton High School football team is in Game 13.
Last season's quarterfinal run in the first year of the Sean Calhoun era was somewhat unexpected, but with a mission of getting to Game 15 on the Trojans' agenda this fall, the second-year head coach and his troops aren't satisfied with just getting back to the elite eight stage.
So in order to get where it wants to go, second-seeded Carrollton will have to knock off top-seeded Warner Robins in tonight's 7:30 showdown at McConnell-Talbert Stadium with the victor advancing to face the Jones County/Carver, Atlanta winner in the semifinals next week.
Earning the opportunity to practice during Thanksgiving week for a second year in a row was certainly a rewarding experience for the Trojans (10-2), and Calhoun was proud of the approach his team is taking into the date with the Demons (12-0).
"We talked all week about how are we going to handle practice all week with no school. Are we going to be a mature football team or are we going to be an immature football team? Are we staying up super late and not eating good and not taking care of our body? We trust them. We trust that we have the maturity and the discipline to handle this week very well," Calhoun said. "We were fortunate enough to do this week last year. So we do have a handful of seniors that know how to do it."
Just like Carrollton, Warner Robins has a proud gridiron tradition with more than 500 wins in 65 seasons of play, including four state championships, the last of which coming in 2004.
But last season wasn't one to write home about, as the Mike Chastain era got off to a bumpy start with a 3-8 finish. But with a solid core returning and a nice boost of four transfers from in-city rival Houston County, the Demons are back in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2013 and seeking the program's first semifinal berth since 2011.
"You're talking about a team that was 3-8 last year and 12-0 now. They had a couple of transfers, but I also think that they have a lot of seniors that have gotten better," Calhoun said. "It's a testament to their coaching staff wanting to have a better football team."
Warner Robins is led offensively by junior quarterback Dylan Fromm, the younger brother of University of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. The younger Fromm has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards this season, many of those going to his twin brother and wideout, Tyler Fromm.
The other key additions include receiver Jaeven West, who had a 93-yard kickoff return in last week's 26-23 overtime win against Eagle's Landing, while tailback Jarius Burnett has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The offensive line is anchored by 6-foot-5, 335-pound Florida State commit Christian Armstrong.
"They've got a good quarterback, a good running back, a good group of receivers. The offensive line is big. Every team that's left, they've got players," Calhoun said. "They've got players, they've got coaches. It just kicks back to our preparation."
Defensively, the Demons also feature plenty of firepower led by a stout line, but the Trojans have seen some pretty solid defenses over the course of the season, namely top-ranked and fellow state quarterfinalist Rome and its arsenal of Division I talent.
With tonight marking the first-ever meeting between the two proud programs, Calhoun wants his ballclub to remember what it was like to lose a heartbreaker in Game 13 last season and use everything that it's overcome since that time, including a rough patch near the middle of the 2017 regular season, to further its chase of the Class AAAAA crown.
"Absolutely. Our mission from the get-go has been Game 15. But you can't get to Game 15 unless you earn a Game 14. You can't earn a Game 14 unless you have a good week of practice," Calhoun said. "Our kids know that and they're really starting to buy into it. It's been a good journey. It's been awesome to be a part of the ups and downs. I'm not ready for it to be over and I know these kids aren't. But our opponent isn't, either. So that's what it is."
Friday night's contest will broadcast live on KISS 102.7 FM.