The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes are in the state semifinals for the third consecutive year.
The Purple Hurricanes capitalized on opportunities early to build their lead, then hung on for a 26-15 road win over the Woodward Academy War Eagles on Friday in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals.
With the win, the Purple Hurricanes, a No. 1 seed from Region 5, move to 13-0. They’ll play Mary Persons next Friday. They are the defending AAAA state champions and have now won 28 games in a row.
But the win streak and proximity to consecutive state titles aren’t the primary focus for Cartersville coach Joey King.
“We want to go 1-0 this next week,” said King, now in his third season with Cartersville, where he owns a 40-2 record. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was a state championship. Our kids have been working towards that and that’s what’s most important.”
The War Eagles, a No. 1 seed from Region 4, were also seeking a third straight trip to the semifinals but see their season end at 11-2.
Cartersville took control almost immediately on the way to a 16-0 first quarter lead. The War Eagles’ went three-in-out on the game’s opening possession, and the punt ended in a Purple Hurricanes safety. On the punt play, a Cartersville defender pushed a Woodward blocker into the ball’s trajectory as it left the foot of Woodward punter Martin Rodriguez. That caused the ball to ricochet 40 yards backwards, coming to rest in the end zone. Purple Hurricanes defenders and Rodriguez made a mad dash toward the ball, with Rodriguez getting there first to punch it out of the end zone.
The Purple Hurricanes offense then executed a six-play scoring drive that culminated on quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s 5-yard run, giving Cartersville a quick 9-0 lead with 7:29 left in the first quarter. Woodward’s second possession ended in a punt and the Purple Hurricanes tacked on another score on Lawrence’s 4-yard pass to T.J. Horton. The score was set up by a 41-yard pass from Lawrence to Antoine Jefferson on the possession’s first play.
Woodward would answer with two scores in the second quarter, the first on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Cade Sutherland from Ryan Glover, but the War Eagles missed the extra point. Rodriguez nailed a 33-yard field goal as the first half expired to bring the score to 16-9.
Cartersville opened the second half with a six-minute drive that ended with a Jonathan Cruz field goal from 19 yards out, making the score 19-9 with 5:59 left in the third quarter. Earlier in the drive Cruz made a 51-yard field goal, but Cartersville opted to accept a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Woodward, which gave the Purple Hurricanes a first down.
The Purple Hurricanes defense protected the lead from there, with the War Eagles’ next three possessions ending in a Nyvin Nelson interception, a punt and a turnover on downs. The Purple Hurricanes then put the exclamation mark on the game with a 5-yard touchdown run from Jefferson, giving them a 26-9 lead with 1:52 left.
Lawrence, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior who is considered by recruiting services as the nation’s top recruit, 17 of his 29 passes for 197 yards. His top target was Jefferson, who had 10 receptions for 136 yards.
Glover finished 14-of-32 passing for 192 yards.
Woodward Academy 0 9 0 6 – 15
Cartersville 16 0 3 7 – 26
C – Team safety
C – Trevor Lawrence (Jonathan Cruz kick)
C – T.J. Horton 4 pass from Lawrence (Cruz kick)
W – Cade Sutherland 8 pass from Ryan Glover (kick failed)
W – Martin Rodriguez 33 FG
C – Cruz 19 FG
C – Antoine Jefferson 5 run (Cruz kick)
W – Josh Johnson 2 pass from Glover (kick failed)