And while the No. 7 Trojans open region play against a struggling Columbus squad tonight at 7:30 at Grisham Stadium, Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague noted that this first 5-AAAA contest has much more to do with his own ball club than it does the Blue Devils.
“Columbus is not overly athletic. We’ve just got to focus on us. We’ve got to execute better, handle the ball well and quit making the mistakes in the kicking game that have hurt us. So hopefully we’ll be focused and execute real well,” Teague said.
The Trojans (1-2, 0-0 Region 5-AAAA) suffered a pair of narrow setbacks through the non-region schedule, falling to previously-ranked Oxford (Ala.) from Class 6A in a 21-17 nail-biter to open the season and then to Class AA No. 1 Calhoun by a 46-35 count on Sept. 14. Sandwiched in between those ball games was a 42-12 home victory over Chapel Hill on Sept. 7.
Of course, the Trojans would much rather be sitting at 3-0 or at least 2-1 right now, but they feel better about getting battle-tested early in the year rather than playing lesser opponents those first few weeks and not having tasted that big-game experience — especially for a young Carrollton squad — until later in the season.
“We found out that we can play with a good team. The only reason we lost was because we made big mistakes. If we don’t make those mistakes and execute real well, we’ll be good for region play,” junior safety/fullback Malik Sheppard said.
Senior center Travis Joyce said tonight marks a fresh start for the Trojans, one where they have play more fundamentally sound and focus on doing all the little things right.
“We’re trying to get rid of the mistakes and kind of move on to the season. Let that be kind of a preseason and just start to play better. Now that the freshmen and some of the younger guys that haven’t played before have some experience, hopefully that’ll lead to some really quality games for us,” Joyce said.
Carrollton had three very physical practices during the open week that saw strong tackle Jake Sanders and defensive lineman B.J. Addison both go down with knee injuries. Teague said both players will sit out tonight, with Sanders being ready to suit back up next week while Addison will likely be out a few more weeks.
“But I think it was good for us to have that opportunity to go back and be fundamental and be real physical with them and not have to worry about it. So from that standpoint, I think it was good,” Teague said.
As far as the injuries as a whole go, Teague said safety Duffee Dortch will make his 2012 debut tonight, while defensive lineman Deion Webb has also been cleared to play in coming back from a broken hand. The Carrollton coach said cornerback Sam Turner is still not back to full speed and quarterback Wil Garrett has been working out at other positions in an effort to get back on the field at some point this season.
“Because of his hand, he still can’t do any quarterbacking. But he’s trying to play a few other spots for us and get in and get in the mix a little bit. So we’re starting to get a few back,” Teague said. “Like I said, we’re down two and maybe getting two back. So we continue to not be at full strength, that’s for sure.”
The Blue Devils (0-3, 0-0) are averaging just 10.7 points per game while giving up 43.3 through three games this year under fourth-year coach Phil Marino. Carrollton has bullied the Blue Devils by a combined tally of 119-14 over the past two years, but the Trojans are coming into tonight’s tilt with a mindset of executing to the best of their ability and allowing the rest to take care of itself.
“We’ve been watching a lot of film on them this week. It’s a region game, so regardless it’s important. Coach Teague keeps on stressing that this week, it’s not about Columbus, it’s about us,” Joyce said.
Because now that region play is underway, there is no room for a slip-up by overlooking an opponent — even one you’ve dominated in recent years.
“From now on, we have to make every one count. We’re playing for the No. 1 seed right now in the region and home field in the playoffs,” Sheppard said.
Teague expects the region race to be extremely tight for the top four spots, with the No. 1 team in Class AAAA being the odds-on favorite to win the region crown.
“I think Sandy Creek is probably going to be a little bit better than everybody else. Then I think after that, us, Shaw, LaGrange and Troup are all potential playoff teams. Alexander and Fayette County are athletic enough to beat anybody on any given night. So it’s going to be a very competitive region,” Teague said.
So after having two weeks to get ready for region play and begin that grind toward the postseason, the Trojans are looking forward to hitting the field again and getting back to business.
“We’re excited about it. We’re glad it’s at home to start the region. Hopefully, we clean up all the mistakes that we’ve been having and really just have a Trojan football game,” Joyce said.