But in the second half, the Carrollton and Calhoun high school offenses turned it up. And once they did, it was the No. 1 Yellow Jackets pulling out the 46-35 victory over Carrollton on Friday night.
Even in the shootout loss, Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague felt like given another chance, his team could come out on top against the top-ranked and defending Class AA state champions.
"It's good and I tip my hat to them. But, you know, I would line up and play them again next Friday night and feel good about our chances," Teague said.
The game had an ominous start for the Class AAAA No. 3 Trojans (1-2), as they failed to recover a Calhoun onside kick attempt and the Yellow Jackets (3-0) scored on the opening drive — missing the extra point — for the 6-0 lead.
From there, the Trojans settled down.
After a Carrollton punt, the Trojans forced Calhoun to a 33-yard field goal attempt that was missed. On the ensuing drive, the Trojans went 80 yards in just six plays, capped off by Trey Chivers' 28-yard run off a direct snap. Tyler Newsome's extra point gave Carrollton the 7-6 lead.
Following back-to-back fumbles, a Carrollton punt and two Calhoun punts, the Trojans found the end zone again. Starting the drive pinned deep in their own zone, Trojan quarterback Will Hesterlee aired it out to Chivers for an 80-yard touchdown pass, as Carrollton went 95 yards in just four plays for the 14-6 advantage it would take into halftime.
The missed opportunity of the second half was a 61-yard pass from Hesterlee to Chivers that would have put the Trojans up 21-6 at halftime giving them added cushion. The play was called back due to an ineligible player downfield and Carrollton couldn't score on the drive.
Both offenses turned it on in the second half — with the Trojans giving the Yellow Jackets some help.
Carrollton forced Calhoun to punt to open the second half, but it muffed the punt and gave the ball to the Yellow Jackets with just 11 yards to go. Calhoun would reach the end zone, but it failed on the two-point try to trail 14-12.
From that point, touchdowns were scored on the next seven drives of the game.
For Carrollton, it was Hesterlee finding Chip Murrah for a 38-yard touchdown pass, Chivers taking it in from 16 yards out and again from 64 yards.
But for each Trojan touchdown, Yellow Jacket star quarterback Taylor Lamb had an answer.
The Calhoun senior and South Alabama commit scored twice on one-yard runs and completed touchdown passes of 20 and 19 yards, while Alex Urbano added one on a five-yard run.
Ultimately, it was a second recovered onside kick and a muffed kickoff that gave Calhoun the advantage, as the Trojan special teams had another letdown, but in a different aspect. Teague isn't really sure what else can be done to help with the special teams errors that have contributed to the two losses this season.
"Well, that's all we've been doing for the past month — kicking game, kicking game, kicking game. I don't know that we can work it any harder. Sooner or later, the players are going to have to make plays," Teague said.
Chivers led the Carrollton offense with a monster night, rushing for 263 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns. The junior also caught a pair of catches for 96 yards and another touchdown.
"Trey's a gifted athlete. He works really hard in the weight room. The 'Deuce' formation is going to give some people some trouble. We've been working on it for a few weeks. We thought it would be effective — and it was. Hesterlee did a good job throwing the football, guys made catches," Teague said.
Dan Harris added 45 yards on nine carries, while Hesterlee finished the game going 5-of-10 for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Defensively, De'Antoine Cammons had an interception and B.J. Addison came up with a fumble recovery on the two Yellow Jacket turnovers.
Overall, the Carrollton offense outgained the Yellow Jackets, 521-507 yards — 471 coming from the arm of Lamb — but the two onside kicks and two fumbled kicks doomed the Trojans.
"We played hard, we executed the game plan on both sides of the ball, for the most part. Basically, the four [special teams] turnovers doomed us," Teague said.
The Trojans will now have their open week before they begin Region 5-AAAA play at home against Columbus on Sept. 28.