CLARKSTON — The Carrollton High School football team is heading to its second straight Class AAAAA state quarterfinal and couldn't have booked its trip in more dominant fashion Friday night.
Powered by yet another stellar rushing performance from senior tailback Jaylan Thomas on top of a five-turnover effort on defense, the second-seeded Trojans throttled top-seeded Arabia Mountain in a 44-0 melee in the second-round clash at Hallford Stadium.
The Trojans (10-2) turned up the heat as temperatures steadily dropped throughout the evening. After the ballgame, head coach Sean Calhoun was thrilled to see his team keep its season alive as the month of November rolls toward Thanksgiving break.
"First and foremost, I have to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving us the ability to play in a beautiful stadium on a beautiful night," Calhoun said. "High school football is unbelievable. When you're playing in the cold, you're playing for something. I'm so proud of our kids and how we're slowly getting better in all areas. It was a great night for the Trojan Nation."
During the opening series, it seemed as if it would be the Region 5-AAAAA champion Rams (9-3) who would gain the early advantage as a pair of long throws from quarterback Bryson Williams to receivers Matthew Crawford and Silas Butler brought them deep into the red zone. But the Trojan defense would give an early sign of what was to come, stuffing Arabia Mountain on four straight goal-line attempts to force a turnover on downs.
On the following Arabia Mountain drive, senior linebacker Josh Glanton would come away with a fumble recovery to set the Trojans up with prime field position. This would lead to Thomas bursting through for a touchdown to put the visitors up 6-0 after a failed two-point conversion. Thomas would break free for a 32-yard score on the following drive to give them a 13-0 advantage after one.
The second quarter brought even more domination from the Trojans on both sides of the football. Defensively, both Glanton and Travis Lockhart Jr. recovered fumbles, while freshman Chaz Chambliss and senior Martez Hudson lived in the Ram backfield, getting multiple sacks on the signal-caller Williams.
Offensively, Carrollton extended its lead with a 39-yard Connor Smith-McCrum field goal and followed that up with nine-yard touchdown pass from Mark Wright to Isaiah Lancaster. The senior Wright was making his first appearance since suffering a broken collarbone in their 36-34 victory over Villa Rica on Oct. 6. The Trojans added one more touchdown before the half when on third and long, sophomore quarterback Kashif Taylor found Dalton Benefield on a screen for a 25-yard touchdown to take a 30-0 lead into the locker room.
And they weren't quite finished in the second half.
It was none other than Thomas who opened the third quarter with a bang, ripping straight through the Ram defense for a 36-yard score, his third of the night. He would finish the contest with 185 yards on 14 carries.
"With Jaylan, that's what we've grown accustomed to," Calhoun said. "That's what he does and the offensive line does a very good job for him."
Even after a Kodee Brewer touchdown run made the game 44-0 later in the quarter, Carrollton's defense still showed unrelenting pressure. Sophomore defensive back Kenneth Towns would haul in an interception and would be followed by one from senior Ricky Marenco, bringing the takeaway total to five on the night.
"Defensively, I mean wow. Five turnovers. If we're able to get takeaways like that, we're going to put ourselves in a position to succeed," Calhoun said. "We're flying around, we're playing physical, we're playing fast and, most importantly, we're playing focused."
Several Black and Gold standouts had their hands in the big win over Arabia Mountain on Friday, but the head coach has noticed his senior players really elevating their roles as leaders on the field as they move deeper into the postseason.
"Each week, our senior leaders don't want the next game to be their last and they're starting to take true ownership of that," Calhoun said. "A player-led team is going to go so much farther than a coach-led team and we're slowly starting to see it. It's very humbling and I'm honored to be a part of it."
Carrollton will now have a week of practice through the Thanksgiving holiday before traveling down to top-seeded Warner Robins, which will host the Trojans next Friday after surviving Eagles Landing in a 26-23 overtime thriller.Calhoun and his team are right back where they were when their season ended a year ago and they'll look to take the next step on Black Friday.
"We've earned the right to play extra football and we are super-excited that we're going to Game 13," Calhoun said. "We're going to enjoy the mess out of this one and we'll get focused on Sunday for (Warner Robins). We just need a good week of practice and for everyone to have a good Thanksgiving."