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Calhoun hoping to upset three-time defending champion Buford

Third straight year these two have met in state championship game

POSTED: December 8, 2010 6:45 p.m.
Rick Winters /For The Times

Calhoun High defenders Chance Beavers (22), Reed Allen (44) and Alex Kirby (8) make a tackle earlier this season against Dade County.

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Hal Lamb is hoping the third time is a charm.

After Lamb’s Calhoun High football team lost to Buford in the Class AA state title game in 2008 and 2009, the Yellow Jackets (14-0) will get another crack at Buford (13-1) yet again this season for the state title at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Georgia Dome.

According to research compiled by the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, this marks the first time two teams have played three consecutive seasons for the state title.

“It’s going to be another difficult game for our team like the past two years,” Lamb said. “We’re definitely the underdog coming into this game, but our kids feel confident that they can play with Buford.”

Calhoun landed probably the biggest upset in Class AA this season when it defeated top-ranked Carver-Columbus 27-14 in the state semifinals last Friday at Phil Reeves Stadium in Calhoun. The Yellow Jackets led 27-6 in the third quarter, then held onto the lead to secure another trip to Atlanta to face Buford.

Despite going 14-0 this season, Lamb knows history isn’t exactly on his side. Buford is looking for its fourth straight state title and seventh since 2001, while Calhoun is trying to grab its first state championship since a Class C crown in 1952.

However, Lamb says playing in the underdog role and without former standouts Nash Nance and Da’Rick Rogers, both now playing at the University of Tennessee, has made this the most enjoyable year in his coaching career.

“There were a lot of people that didn’t think we had a chance of making it back to the finals,” Lamb said. “We don’t have any eye-popping players on this team, but have great chemistry and a lot of players that have been on the field for the previous two games against Buford.”

Yellow Jackets running back Dustin Christian, a senior, is one of those who played in the past two state title games. The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga commit has 1,500 yards rushing this season and 22 touchdowns.

At wide receiver, Calhoun is led by senior J.T. Palmer and his 55 catches and 11 touchdowns this year. Against Carver, Palmer had a key 24-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.

Calhoun senior quarterback Landon Curtis also has substantial offensive production with 2,700 passing yards and 33 touchdowns, including a 19-for-23 night passing against Carver for 189 yards and two touchdown throws. He also ran for a 3-yard touchdown in the third quarter against the Tigers.

Lamb said his goal is to be as close to 50-50 on offense as possible.

“We feel like we have the ability to run and pass the ball well,” Lamb said.

On defense, Calhoun is led by linebackers Alex Kirby (150 tackles) and Hunter Knight (128 tackles). Gus Roberts is the team’s leader at defensive back with 105 tackles this season. During the regular season, Calhoun allowed less than 10 points in seven games and accomplished that feat again in the first round of the playoffs against Manchester.

Last week, the Yellow Jackets showed they could stack up against any running game by holding Isaiah Crowell, one of the nation’s top running back prospects, to only 97 yards on 21 carries.

Calhoun’s coach says that the Yellow Jackets have managed quite a difficult road through the playoffs. After a comfortable win against Manchester in the first round, the Yellow Jackets topped Westminster, Fitzgerald and then Carver-Columbus.

Against Westminster, the Yellow Jackets had to rally from an early 13-0 deficit. Calhoun fell behind when a snap went over the punter’s head and returned by Westminster for a touchdown. However, they secured the victory with 22 points in the fourth quarter.


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