CALHOUN, Ga. -- The slogan on the sweatshirt said it best -- "New year, new team, same goal" -- and for a Calhoun High School football team looking for a fourth straight trip to the state championship game, Friday's first playoff step was a success.
It may have been more challenging, more physical and a little more frustrating than some outsiders may have thought, but it was a success nonetheless after a 39-6 win over Jefferson at Phil Reeve Stadium.
"They're the best No. 4 seed we've ever played," said Calhoun coach Hal Lamb, who should be well-versed in four seeds after leading the Yellow Jackets to their 11th consecutive region title this season. "We knew their strength was their offense and their quarterback is a good player. We bent a little bit but we didn't break and made some plays in the red zone."
Calhoun's defensive resistance was anchored by a physical defensive line and two big-play linebackers -- senior Alex Kirby returned a fumble 41 yards for a touchdown before taking a precautionary early exit with a sore shoulder and classmate Hunter Knight had 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 5.5 sacks.
"We kind of figured out their snap count, and the defensive line did a great job of freeing me up," Knight said. "I'm sure there's some little stuff I can do better after looking at the film, but that's one of best games."
The video will show a river of Calhoun penalties that helped extend Jefferson drives and added to an already nervous energy that's part of playoff football.
"This was my first playoff game and it definitely feels different," said Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb, who settled into an impressive rythym and completed his last eight throws to finish his first postseason start 19-of-25 for 206 yards and a score to Ben Lamb. "Plus, both teams started getting a little mouthy and, hey, it's football."
The aggressive and energetic Yellow Jackets have redlined between aggressive and over the top all season, averaging right at 100 yards in penalties per game. They topped that in the first half Friday.
Whether it was playoff jitters, an increased volume of trash-talking or full-moon quirkiness -- a Calhoun photographer drew a 15-yard penalty for tripping an official, much to the chagrin of Coach Lamb -- the high-energy style produced three turnovers and nine sacks.
As the defense was tormenting Jefferson and chasing quarterback Bryant Shirreffs from the locker room to the outlet malls, the Yellow Jackets offense picked up its pace as Taylor Lamb grew more comfortable.
Short touchdown runs by Darius Washington, Tony Hernandez and Alex Urbano proved more than enough depsite Jefferson's late score when McKay Dickens caught a 6-yard throw from Shirreffs, who finished with 247 yards passing.
"It was just a win," Coach Lamb said after his team won its 13 consecutive postseason game against an opponent not named Buford. "There's 16 teams left fighting for the same thing and there aren't any easy ones this time of year."
And Lamb knows that to chase a state championship banner sometimes you have to overcome flags.