Calhoun overcame a sloppy first half to finish strong Friday night and defeat the West Hall Spartans, 34-7, in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
West Hall’s season ends at 5-6 after a late-season surge of three straight wins that sent the Spartans to state for a second straight year.
But after keeping it close in the first half, the Spartans’ offense bogged down thereafter and the Yellow Jackets pulled away.
In the first half, the Calhoun offensive line couldn’t create any holes for the running backs and the West Hall defense penetrated into the backfield. Calhoun quarterback Kaelan Riley struggled in the first half, throwing an interception and losing a fumble.
Yet Riley finished with a very strong performance as he passed for 300 yards, threw three touchdown passes and ran for another.
“We didn’t want to come out and lay an egg, and we kind of started that at the beginning of the game, but we picked it up,” Riley said. “We obviously didn’t play as well as we wanted to and committed too many turnovers. And I mean we just got to get back on the practice field, get back to the drawing board, and do better if we want to achieve our goal go all the way through the post (season).”
Riley was responsible for the first score, a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dusty Baker. The resulting extra point was missed, and Calhoun was up by six.
West Hall answered when Kwon Williams, who came in at quarterback in a read-option look, rolled out and hit a wide-open Hykeem Bennett for a 39-yard touchdown. With the PAT, West Hall led at the end of the quarter, 7-6.
The Jackets answered in the second quarter. Riley struck again and showed off his big arm, throwing a 59-yard scoring strike to Malik Lawrence. That gave Calhoun a 13-7 lead going into halftime.
The Calhoun defense was solid in the second half, holding West Hall scoreless the rest of the way.
Calhoun scored with 8:14 left in the fourth quarter when Riley found Jarrett Carden for a 42-yard score.
The Jackets scored twice more in the final period on a 1-yard run by Riley and another by running back Olico Dennis, who finished with 138 yards on 21 carries with one score.
The Jackets will play host to Peach County next Friday night.