CALHOUN, Ga. — Much of Calhoun's success on the football field over the past decade and a half came when coach Hal Lamb and his staff switched the program's offensive philosophy from run-first to more of a pass-friendly spread attack.
The Yellow Jackets, though, don't mind returning to their running roots, especially when weather conditions prevent the normal game plan from being implemented. Such was the case Friday night in a GHSA Class AAA state quarterfinal game against Jenkins, when Calhoun used a 157-yard rushing performance from senior Zack Fuller to win 24-12 on a cold and windy night at Phil Reeve Stadium.
"We couldn't get any rhythm offensively because of the weather," said Lamb, referencing wintry gusts that reached 20 mph at times. "We couldn't throw it against the wind, so finally we had to just rely on our run game. Zack ran hard-nosed tonight, and we needed him. I'm real pleased with the way our offensive line played, and of course our defense played well."
Next Friday, top-ranked Calhoun (13-0) will host No. 4 Peach County (11-2) in a rematch of last year's controversial championship game. Peach County beat Westminster 21-3 in their quarterfinal Friday.
Whether it was the conditions or possibly peeking ahead to Peach, Calhoun had to overcome a myriad of mistakes to escape unranked Jenkins (9-4). Those miscues included a fumble at the Jenkins 1, two other drives that got inside the 30 with no points, a missed field goal and a fumble in Calhoun territory late in the game that kept the Warriors' hopes alive.
"There were a lot of things that we didn't do well," Lamb said. "If we don't fumble the ball on the 1-yard line it would have been different, but give Jenkins credit because they can run and tackle well and they got off blocks very well.
"I think if we could have thrown the ball a little more we could have exposed their secondary a little more, but we had to rely on the run game a bit more."
On the other hand, Calhoun allowed only 251 yards of total offense and intercepted four passes. Relying on that defense, Lamb chose to defer and take the wind after winning the coin toss, and it resulted in a quick three-and-out series and a wind-shortened 11-yard punt for Jenkins.
The Jackets needed just four plays, all Fuller runs, to score, with the workhorse finding the end zone from 4 yards out.
After having a possession start at the Jenkins 35 and gain only 3 yards, Calhoun moments later was set up at the Warriors' 3 after a Brannon Spector interception and return. However, a fumbled snap on second down from the 1 killed the drive as the first quarter ended with a frustrated Calhoun up only seven.
"We can't fumble the ball on the 1," Lamb said. "But our kids hung in there even when things didn't go our way tonight and found a way to win."
Things brightened for Calhoun early in the second quarter when the Jackets, after sniffing out a fake punt, marched 53 yards in eight plays. After Fuller got the team to the 29, quarterback Gavin Gray, against the wind, passed to Bralin Barton for a 29-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead that stood at halftime.
The second half started with a Calhoun drive that ended with a missed field-goal try, and the Warriors took advantage to come to life with an 80-yard touchdown drive that featured several misdirection passes from quarterback Treshawn Brown. After hitting Ronald Cooper for 22 yards to get the ball into the red zone, the two hooked up five plays later for a 6-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to eight as a 2-point pass failed.
Calhoun, now pressed, got aggressive to answer, with Gray hitting tight end Davis Allen on first down for 28 yards and later hooking up with Collin Baggett on third down for a 4-yard touchdown pass and a more comfortable 21-6 lead.
The Jackets' defense, despite another Brown-to-Cooper touchdown pass late in the game, made the lead stand up, even after a fumble at the Calhoun 37 set the Warriors up down 12. Three plays later, Payton Morrow intercepted Brown to end the threat and set up next week's highly anticipated semifinal.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.