Class 5A blog: Cambridge faces another heavyweight in its quest for spot in quarters

The Cambridge football team is knocking at the door again. The No. 5-ranked Bears have reached the second round of the state playoffs for the last two years, only to be turned away by a couple of heavyweights – by Buford in 2020 and by Lee County in 2021.

The third try at knocking down the wall won’t be any easier on Friday when Cambridge (9-2) hosts No. 3 Cartersville, another one of those heavyweights that have been so problematic.

“The experience we have in these kind of games is invaluable,” coach Craig Bennett said.

The experience starts on the offensive line, which features a group of three-year starters. Center Cam Phillips will be making his 45th varsity start and the others aren’t far behind. There are 27 seniors on the team who have been in these situations.

“We’ve told these guys for years and years that the closer you are, the better we’ll be,” Bennett said. “This is really a close-knit group and that’s kind of held us together through the adversities we’ve faced with some early losses, just the maturity of these guys as well.”

The Cambridge offense is led by junior quarterback Preston Clemmer (1,117 yards passing, 17 touchdowns; 504 yards rushing, seven TDs), running back Christian Isibor (1,240 yards, 14 TDs) and wide receiver Will Taylor (31 catches, 15.6 yard average, nine TDs). .

The leading tacklers are Cole Giacobbe (66 tackles),Brooks  Morley (65 tackles, six tackles for loss) and Garrett Moody (58 tackles, six tackles for loss). Jack Marlow, who has committed to play lacrosse at the University of Michigan, plays numerous positions and is effective wherever he’s placed.

“Coach Riley has done a tremendous job with those guys and those kids oftentimes know exactly what’s coming and they’re going to be prepared.”

Special teams has been a  big part, too. The Bears have returned a kickoff for a touchdown and they have blocked five punts.

“People talk about the three phases of the game and it’s really true,” Bennett said. “These things have come together and our kids have bought into that. They want to win their phase of the game and that helps.”

Cartersville (10-1) got to the state championship game in 2020 and was knocked out in the second round by eventual champion Warner Robins, a unfortunate pairing between two titans in the second round. The Purple Hurricanes must hit the road because of the regular-season loss to Calhoun, which cost them the region championship.

Cartersville can beat you with a running game – Malachi Jeffries has rushed for 1,098 yards and 18 touchdowns – but has an excellent quarterback in Patrick Gamble, who has played through an injury and has thrown for 1,211 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Jamauri Brice can be a game-breaker.

Kell (10-1) at No. 4 Calhoun (8-3): The other marquee game in the second round features two outstanding all-around teams who are no strangers to the postseason. Both have outstanding quarterbacks – Kell’s Bryce Clavon has thrown for 2,569 yards and rushed for 776 yards this season and Trey Townsend has thrown for 1,890 yards. But the heart of Calhoun’s team is Caden Williams, who has run for 952 yards.

Chamblee (9-2) at No. 1 Ware County (10-0): Chamblee takes its dream season to the Swamp, one of the toughest places in the state. The Bulldogs ride the arms and legs of quarterback Fabian Walker, who has thrown for 5,626 yards and threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in the first-round win over McIntosh. Ware County has a two-pronged attack behind quarterback Nikeo Smith and Dae’Jean

Cass (5-6) at Mays (7-4) at Lakewood, 8 p.m: This match between two non-ranked foes could be one of the most entertaining of the second-round, as both teams have some big-time playmakers. Cass rode the arm of freshman quarterback Brodie McWhorter and receivers Devin Henderson, considered the team’s best athlete who moved over from quarterback in midseason, and speedy UGA commit Sacovie White, to a stunning 27-27 win over Jefferson. Mays quarterback Saulamon Evans is as elusive and dangerous as anyone in the league. The Raiders have won five in a row, three by shutout, and have scored no fewer than 44 points over that stretch. Three of their losses came against ranked opponents.

Northgate (5-6) at No. 7 Dutchtown (10-1): Northgate is in the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and in the second round for the first time since 2016. Tyon Williams, a two-way standout at wide receiver and safety, has been drawing raves the last month; he has 900 yards as a receiver. Evan Garrett rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns in beating Arabia Mountain. Dutchtown has flourished under first-year coach Niketa Battle. Jamal Bing has run for 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. Cornerback Tarez Hamilton is just one of many outstanding players on defense.

No. 8 Warner Robins (7-4) at Northside-Columbus (10-1):  Northside puts its nine-game winning streak on the line against the twp-time defending state champions in arguably the biggest football game in school history. This will be a showcase game for Northside running back Malachi Hosley, who leads Class 5A with 2,032 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.  The Demons have won six in a row after a dismal 1-4 start; although three of the four losses came against teams that are still in the playoffs. First-year QB Chase Reese has grown into the role and has thrown for 1,220 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Dalton (6-5) at No. 2 Creekside (9-2): Creekside has become increasingly dangerous since its offense has caught up with his vaunted defense. QB Vinson Berry (1,457 yards, 16 TDs) has found his stride and no one in the state has been more productive over the last few weeks that running back Roderick McCrary (1,217 yards, 15 TDs; 72 tackles at safety. Creekside’s strong defense will be tasked with slowing down Dalton running back Tyson Greenwade, who had rushed for 1,936 yards. Greenwade had 97 hard-fought yards and scored the winning touchdown in last week’s upset win over No. 10 Loganville.

No. 6 Coffee (9-2) at Decatur (7-4): Coffee will bring an outstanding running attack into the game. The Trojans are led by Amtwain McDuffie (946 yards, 14 TDs). Fred Brown and Tyrese Woodgett are closing in on 700 yards and the team averages 265 yards on the ground. But quarterback Maurice Hansley (1,241 yards, 12 TDs) ensures a balanced attack. On defense two-way standout Luke Lariccia and linebacker Larry Daniel both stood out in the first-round win. The Decatur attack is more air-friendly; QB Harrison Hannah had 2,385 yards and 22 touchdowns in the regular season. But the Bulldogs have a deep group of talented running backs, led by Malachi Miller. A win would put Decatur in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003.