CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — It will be the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes playing host to the Buford Wolves for the right to go to the Georgia Dome and play for the Class AAA state championship.
The Hurricanes advanced to the semifinal round by defeating the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA, the Thomson Bulldogs, 21-13, Friday night before a sold-out crowd at Weinman Stadium.
“This is a special team,” Cartersville coach Frank Barden said after being informed that the Wolves defeated Carver-Columbus, 31-7. “We played our hearts out tonight.”
It is also a 13-0 team that will be playing its fourth consecutive playoff game at home next Friday.
“Being home once again means everything to us,” Barden said.
Cartersville is one win from playing in the Georgia Dome thanks to a defense that kept making key, goal-line stops. And, an offense, that needed just three big plays to offset the Bulldogs’ ball-control offense.
In the first half alone, the Canes stopped Thomson for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Cartersville 24-yard line and then held on downs when a pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the Canes’ 6-yard line. In the second half, Hayes Linn intercepted a pass in the end zone on first-and-goal from the 5.
“Every time we stopped them (the Bulldogs) from scoring our confidence on defense kept growing,” said Brandon Wells, who made the key tackle to preserve Cartersville’s 24-23 win last week. “I knew beforehand that defense would be the heart of this game.”
It was defense that bent repeatedly in the first half.
On one possession, Thomson controlled the ball from 1:52 of the first quarter to 4:26 of the second quarter. Yet, it was Cartersville that led 7-0 until 3:11 of the second quarter.
“Our offense struggled early, no doubt about it,” said Canes’ quarterback Brooks Barden.
Barden, harassed, sacked and punished by the Bulldogs defense throughout the night, stayed upright long enough to find a streaking Linn open down the middle for a 61-yard touchdown with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter. Thomson tied the score at 7, with two long pass completions by backup quarterback Quay Cummings to Jordan Davis that set up William Bussey’s 2-yard touchdown at 3:11 of the second quarter.
Barden headed to the locker room at halftime, having completed just two of seven passes – both to Linn – for 67 yards. His second interception led to the Bulldogs’ go-ahead touchdown when Torrie Battle scored on a 10-yard run at 3:36 of the third quarter.
What followed, according to Canes’ running back Kalin Heath, was the game’s turning point.
“Everything began going our way when we blocked their extra point attempt,” said Heath, who scored the Canes’ tying touchdown on a 68-yard run two plays after the Bulldogs had taken a 13-7 lead.
On Thomson’s next offensive possession, Josh Cooper recovered a Bulldogs’ fumble on the opening play of the second quarter.
Preston Slemp nailed his extra point following a 22-yard touchdown pass from Barden to T.L. Ford with 8:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.