Well, all they’ve done since then is answer every single question and get rid of any doubts. And since the playoffs started three weeks ago, the group has turned it to an even higher level. They will need that same intensity when they welcome Lamar County to Phil Reeve Stadium in the fourth round of the playoffs on Friday.
The Jackets defense has given up a total of 31 points in their three playoff wins over Wesleyan, Washington-Wilkes and Brooks County, and two of those TDs came late in the game when the result was no longer in doubt. They’ve also forced eight turnovers.
“We are peaking right now,” said Calhoun senior linebacker Jackson Brumlow. “The coaches have us turned up, prepared and ready to go. They’ve got us believing that nothing’s going to stop us.”
Brumlow has one of those turnovers as he recovered a fumble against Wesleyan in the first round. His teammate and fellow senior Donnell Anthony, a defensive back, has accounted for three of the turnovers with two interceptions and a fumble recovery over the last three games. Will Conley has two interceptions, and JP Parker and Fields Chapman each had one interception also.
Brumlow said forcing turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the defense especially since the playoffs have started.
“We know as good as our offense is, if we get them the ball back, they will score more times than not,” said Brumlow.
For Anthony, the lone returning starter from last year’s defense, he said he knew with losing as many seniors from last year’s team as they did, he would have to take on more of a leadership role.
“(Defensive Coordinator Ricky) Ross talked to me about it before the season and told me I would be the one that the other guys followed,” said Anthony. “I’ve tried to show them on the field how to do things the right way. We’ve got some younger guys on the defense this year, and I just told them they had to step up and become mature really fast, and so far they have.”
Last year’s state championship defense was led by experienced seniors such as linebackers Alex Kirby or Hunter Knight, defensive backs Clay Johnson or Heath Everett, or defensive linemen Reed Allen or Tony Hernandez, among others. While this year’s unit doesn’t have the household names or experience like last year’s, Anthony said they have made up for it in other areas.
“We all decided that we could come together, and we could be as good as last season,” said Anthony. “I think we’re pretty close. We don’t have as many stars, but we are equal in heart.”
The new group got some tough early tests in the first three weeks of the season from Ridgeland, Dalton and Carrollton in which they gave up thirty or more points. Brumlow said those tough games early and hard work last spring were a key part of this defense becoming better.
“(Those games) really tested us and brought us to the brink of failure,” said Brumlow. “But we fought out of it each time. It really started last spring. We knew we had some big shoes to fill, and we wouldn’t be able to make it to state if we didn’t step up. We just had to decide what made us best.”
Anthony added that those three games were all opportunities to grow as a defense.
“We knew that those three games would be like playoff games and would test us,” said Anthony. “From that, we know how to play through adversity so it has worked out well.”
After the first three games of the year, the 13-0 Jackets rolled through the region schedule, including recording four shutouts (against Coosa, Model, Armuchee and Murray County) in seven region wins.
Now, they will look to be on top of their game on Friday against Lamar County because a win means they would take their show to the Georgia Dome for the team’s fifth straight appearance in the state title Game.