And the task isn’t the easiest as the defending Class AA state champions open up the second half of their regular season.
The Jackets (5-0, 2-0) host Pepperell on Friday night at Phil Reeve Stadium. The Dragons (2-3, 2-0), the team Calhoun defeated last November in the 7-AA Region Championship Game, is expected by many to be the toughest opponent on the region schedule.
Calhoun coach Hal Lamb doesn’t disagree with the talent and capabilities of Pepperell.
“They scare you,” said Lamb. “They are bigger than any team we’ve played so far this year. And they’re big up front on both sides of the ball.
“They’re also well-coached, sound and disciplined so this will be a really good test for us.”
The Jackets come into the showdown after a bye week in which Lamb said his team accomplished exactly what they wanted to coming into the week and got a head start on preparing for Pepperell.
“We had a good week,” said Lamb. “We got some good conditioning in, but at the same time, we got some much needed rest. We also got some kids healthy that’s been banged up over the last few weeks.”
Calhoun should have offensive lineman Nathan Walraven, receiver Logan Walraven and linebacker Justin Harrison back for Friday’s game after they were able to get back to close to 100 percent during the bye week.
The Jackets will be glad to have those guys back as they will need all hands on deck against Pepperell who looks to play a tough brand of football where they come at teams with wave after wave of physical, brute force.
It’s been a battle of different styles the last few years in the series between the two teams as Calhoun has used their spread offense and up-tempo pace while Pepperell has tried to eat up the clock and shorten the game. Either way, the Dragons have been Calhoun’s toughest challenger in the region for the last five or six years, developing a little bit of a rivalry between the two teams and fan bases.
Even with that being the case, Lamb said his team has to be focused on this game alone because of its importance in the region standings.
“I told the kids on Monday that this is the biggest game we’ve played so far this year, and that’s the truth,” said Lamb. “It has a lot of implications at the top of the region, and we can’t afford to lose a region game, especially to Pepperell because I expect them to win their remaining games.
“The winner of this one will have the inside track on that No. 1 spot so it’s a really big game.”
Lamb said his team will have to get back to how they were playing earlier in the season in order to come out on the winning side of Friday’s game.
“We’ve got to execute,” said Lamb. “We can’t play like we have our last two games. We have to execute better on both sides, especially on offense. And on defense, we’ve got to gang tackle. We’ve had too much one-on-one tackling the last few weeks, and we can’t have that.”
Lamb is right. This is the best team his Jackets will face in the region schedule.
Unfortunately for the Dragons, the drop-off between No. 1 and No. 2 in 7-AA is pretty big. Calhoun simply has way too much firepower for a Pepperell team that has struggled to put points on the board and keep opposing teams off it this season.
The Jackets should improve to 3-0 in the region and take one more step toward that 12th straight region title.
Calhoun 35, Pepperell 14