RIDGELAND VS. CALHOUN
WHERE: Rome's Barron Stadium
WHEN: Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST
TV: The ATL
Head Coach: Hal Lamb (three state championships this decade—2011, 2014, 2017)
Status: Defending state champions (3A Class—defeated Peach County in title game)
Preseason State Ranking: No. 1 in 3A (Georgia High School Football Daily)
2017 Record: 14-1
2017 Legacy: After suffering a 55-8 loss to Cartersville, Calhoun rebounded for 12 straight wins—with an average victory margin of 28 points.
Long-lasting legacy: According to the Georgia High School Association, Calhoun boasts the longest winning streak against regional opponents--at 90 consecutive victories.
**4 wide receivers for the majority of offensive snaps
**3 wideouts, along with an H-back supporting the run or pass
PLAYERS OF INTEREST
#11 QB GAVIN GRAY
**A 2 1/2-year starter at quarterback
**Coach Lamb on Gray, who exhibits great accuracy and a rare knack for getting the ball out quickly on passing plays: "(Gavin) knows the game, and he knows what we want to do offensively."
#3 WR/DB BRANNON SPECTOR
**Already committed to Clemson for the 2019 season
**Coach Lamb says Spector would be a "perfect fit" at receiver for Clemson in the short term ... but he'd also make for an "unbelievable" safety down the road.
#24 RB/LB ZACK FULLER
**Coach Lamb on Fuller: "He's a tough sucker. He'll run through a brick wall, if you ask him to."
COACH LAMB ASSESSMENTS
**Last year's title was "probably the most gratifying state championship we've had" at Calhoun.
**Creating a tough early schedule was "by design." Regarding opponents like Ridgeland and Cartersville, Lamb says "They're powerhouses ... it'll be a good gauge of where we are" as a team.
**On making Ridgeland's defense work on Thursday: "We're going to have use all the field," in terms of executing on long passes, bubble screens and side-to-side attack plays.
**On finally landing a Corky Kell invitation: "I've been trying to get in the Corky Kell for a while." Translation: Calhoun's ecstatic to be part of this year's three-day extravaganza.
**On taking on a Ridgeland team that's won 20 of its last 23 games: "We know they're going to be athletic, they have a lot of kids who can run." ... "They're fast and athletic, it'll be a really good test for us."
Head Coach: Cortney Braswell (1st year running program)
Status: Lost in the state finals
Preseason State Ranking: No. 10 in 4A (Georgia High School Football Daily)
2017 Record: 11-1
2017 Legacy: First undefeated regular season in school history
PLAYERS OF INTEREST
#1 QB TANNER HILL
**The field general of the Panthers' offensive attack
**Braswell tags him as a "phenomenal kid," with off-the-charts character
#3 RB/LB JORDAN BLACKWELL
**Blackwell only focused on defense last season, but he'll be a dual contributor in 2018.
**Braswell: He's an "electric runner," with home-run potential on every carry.
**Braswell: His passion for football is palpable, "(Jordan's) one after my own heart."
#52 OL FRED NORMAN JR.
**Size: 6-foot-7, 300-plus pounds
**During the offseason, the incredibly nimble Norman plays on Ridgeland's tennis team
**Braswell: If Norman wasn't wearing jersey #52, "we'd probably throw to him in the red zone." Has great hands and quickness for someone of mammoth size.
**Norman directs every change and calls every protection along the O-line.
COACH BRASWELL ASSESSMENTS
On speedy receiver Azavier Blackwell: "He's the fastest kid I've ever seen (wearing) a helmet ... it's just explosive play after explosive play."
On linebacker Terrance Roberts: "He's an absolute man ... he's as physical as a football player that I've ever been around ... we go (on defense), as he goes."
On opponent Calhoun's legacy: "When you talk about the history of Georgia (HS) football, you can't (anything) without saying Calhoun."
On his program's excitement level for taking on a powerhouse, like Calhoun: Braswell channels his inner-Ric Flair for a moment, claiming, "If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man!"
On the low-pressure aspect of playing tough opponents before regional play begins: "We feel like we're playing with house money" in the Corky Kell.
**A noticeable shift to the spread offense, after running a modern variation of the Wing-T in 2017
**That said, "I can't help it, I love to run the football ... it'll be a ball-controlled (spread) offense, for sure."