Come 7:30 this evening, the eyes of the entire state will be transfixed on a heavyweight bout taking place at Barron Stadium in Rome.
In a battle featuring two of Class AAAAA's finest, No. 4 Carrollton will trek an hour up Hwy. 27 into the den of defending state champion and top-ranked Rome for a top-five showdown of 7-AAAAA powerhouses.
The Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Region 7-AAAAA) certainly don't need to be reminded of how critical this game is for both their region and state championship aspirations this season.
"The guys have been excited since Sunday," Calhoun said. "I told them 'I don't need you ready until 7:30 Friday night.' There's no reason to get worked up on Monday, Wednesday or even Thursday because you can't do anything about it. I just want them to bottle up that energy and effort and let it all loose and do it for four quarters."
Calhoun and Co. enter the clash coming off a 41-6 pasting of Woodland, Cartersville one week ago. Led by the havoc-wreaking plays defensively from Chaz Chambliss and E.J. Pride Jr., the Trojans unleashed on the Wildcats for another victorious effort.
"Up front on the offensive and defensive lines, we were physical at the point of attack," Calhoun said. "Woodland is a good team that does some different stuff offensively, so you have to be ready for that. The defense forced a couple of fumbles, which was really good to see."
While multiple weapons for the Trojan offense found the end zone throughout the evening, fumbles hounded the potent attack for the second week in a row. Those are errors that the second-year head coach has emphasized to his team that it absolutely cannot make when playing the top-ranked team in the sate.
"The most glaring thing that we've got to fix is that offensively, we put it on the ground four times last week," Calhoun said. "If we do that versus Rome, it's not going to be a good night for us. We can't do that against a high-caliber team like them."
High-caliber is one way to describe a defending state champion team like the Wolves (4-0, 2-0), who are averaging 51.3 points per game while holding opponents to just 13.5.
Rome is actually the No. 1 scoring offense in AAAAA, while Carrollton is No. 2 (47.50 ppg).
Offensively, Rome is led by the trio of quarterback Knox Kadum and tailbacks Jalynn Sykes and Jamious Griffin.
Kadum has just under 700 yards through the air and has rushed for 166 yards on the year, while Sykes has 373 yards and five touchdowns on 36 carries and Griffin is at 365 yards and five touchdowns on 52 totes.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolves' defensive front features a who's who of top-flight Division I recruits led by the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, four-star recruit Adam Anderson, the defending Defensive Player of the Year in Class AAAAA, while Tennessee verbal commit Jamarcus Chatman and LSU verbal commit Ja'Quon Griffin round out the formidable front.
Calhoun said what is often overlooked is how solid the Wolves are in the third phase of the game.
"They play very physical on the offense and defense, but what doesn't get talked about is how good they are on special teams. They take a lot of pride in that unit and that was glaring last year when they came here and won," Calhoun said.
Carrollton could certainly use a big special teams play like senior Andy Smith's blocked punt and eventual touchdown last week. To overcome this difficult challenge, the coaching staff has really hammered down being on their P's and Q's in all areas.
"We've been talking about our three 'E's' — execution, energy and effort," Calhoun said. "If we can find a way to win those three things, it can possibly be a good night for the Trojans."
Being one of the state's elite means beating other elite teams in the state, and the Trojans fully understand that's what needs to be done to make it to Game 15 as they've harped on all year. This 7-AAAAA showdown is a measuring stick and to achieve what they want to achieve, they must pass the test.
"For us to be not a good program, but a great program, you've got to find a way to win on the road. That's what we talk about and we're going to try our best to do that (tonight)," Calhoun said. "Our players know the great opportunity that lies ahead of them. They know that if they want to be talked about as one of the best teams that's ever been assembled here at Carrollton, you have to find ways to beat great programs and great teams like Rome."
Tonight's contest will broadcast live on KISS 102.7 FM.