A pair of tradition-rich programs that share quite a bit of history will lock horns in the opening round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs tonight at Grisham Stadium.
The Carrollton High School football team welcomes in Clarke Central for the 7:30 p.m. showdown to kick off the postseason in the first-ever meeting between the two powerhouses.
Although they haven't toed the line on the field, the ties date back to the 1980s when former Trojan coaching legend Ben Scott served as the Gladiators' offensive coordinator under head coach Billy Henderson. Current Clarke Central head coach David Perno was actually a fullback under Scott.
When Scott left for Carrollton, where he won the program's last state championship in 1998, Henderson replaced him with a rising young star on the coaching scene named Rayvan Teague.
Teague, of course, followed Scott's footsteps and eventually took over the Trojan program in 2002 after successful head coaching stints at LaFayette (1990-93) and Swainsboro (1994-2001).
Fast-forward to the present time and the connections haven't stopped, as former CHS star and assistant coach Justin Jones is in his second season as the Clarke Central defensive coordinator, making for one of the more interesting first-round collisions in Class AAAAA this evening.
Of course, second-year Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun is less concerned with a history lesson than he is with making history for the current boys of Troy, and he understands that tonight's matchup presents a major challenge across the board from the Gladiators (7-3), the No. 3 seed out of Region 8, which includes Buford and Flowery Branch.
"Defensively, they have no weakness. In the box, their defensive line and their linebackers are big and they are physical," Calhoun said. "They load the box and just dare you to run it. They're very good and they've been very, very good on the run. In the secondary, they have a lot of interceptions, a lot of tipped balls. I think they have the most interceptions returned for a touchdown that we've seen all season.
"They don't get overly complicated in their schemes, and I think that's what makes them so good is they work at a handful of things and get really good at it. Defensively, this will definitely be one of the best we've seen all season."
On the other side of the ball, the Trojan defense will work to contain a Clarke Central attack that is averaging 34.1 points per game and features its fair share of play-makers.
"Their offensive line is massive. They are big up front and very good at what they do. They have a very good quarterback who is very accurate and does a great job of distributing the ball," Calhoun said. "They've got two really good running backs. I think one is a very highly-recruited kid. Then they've got a handful of receivers who are very skilled, very athletic. Just big, physical receivers and a big tight end."
The Trojans (8-2) enter the playoffs riding plenty of momentum, however, outscoring their opponents by a 101-27 margin since halftime of the Kell contest on Oct. 20.
The Carrollton captains held a players-only meeting on Sunday and Calhoun said the energy and intensity has been amped all week leading up to kickoff.
So as the pair of warriors make the confines of Grisham Stadium today's modern-day Colosseum, the Trojans are ready to stake claim to round 2.
"Our kids are very excited, but they have a 1-0 mindset," Calhoun said. "If we don't go 1-0, our season ends at Game 11. We're just talking about real life and where our situation is. It's not to scare them, but we say, 'Was that our last Monday practice? Will this be our last Thursday team meal together?' We've got to earn the next one."
Tonight's contest will broadcast live on KISS 102.7 FM.