Mary Persons’ program has plenty of tradition and has won its share of games since Brian Nelson became the Bulldogs’ head coach in 2012.
But the program hasn’t played in the semifinals of the GHSA playoffs since 1998.
Mary Persons gets that chance at 7:30 p.m. on Friday when it travels to Cartersville for the Class 4A semifinals. The Bulldogs are 11-2 and have won eight straight games, while Cartersville is 13-0.
“Most of these guys weren’t even born in 1998,” said Nelson, who owns a 51-11 record and has double-digit wins in four of his five seasons and nine wins in the other season. “I don’t think ‘nervous’ is the right word. For me as the head coach, it’s the first time, but at the end of the day, our kids have been playing football their whole lives, and it’s really just another game. It’s what they’ve been doing forever.
“You play football, and you have fun, and you execute, and it really is, it’s just another game.”
Still, there is only one game between the Bulldogs and reaching the Georgia Dome for the championship game. Mary Persons’ lone championship came in 1980, and it hasn’t reached the title game since 1993.
“We just have to worry about being 1-0 this week,” senior guard Caleb Etheridge said. “That’s all we can think about right now. We’ve just gotta be disciplined and focused in what we do. We’ve known each other pretty much our whole lives, and we like playing with each other, and we keep working hard to get where we’re at.”
Focusing on Cartersville is wise. The Purple Hurricanes are averaging 46.1 points per game, and they have two games scoring in the 40s, three in the 50s and one game each in the 60s and 70s. Cartersville’s lowest point total was 26 last week against Woodward Academy.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a top recruit for the 2018 class, is the focal point of the Cartersville attack, and Nelson said the Purple Hurricanes throw the ball about 70 percent of the time.
“He’s what makes it go, the Lawrence kid, but they have some good skill position players around him, too,” Nelson said. “I think our kids on defense are looking forward to the challenge, and they’re excited and ready. I just think our whole town, our whole team, our whole school is looking forward to this. It’s a great opportunity for us and a great challenge at the same time.”
The Mary Persons defense is no slouch. Led by standout Malik Herring, the Bulldogs have recorded four shutouts and held seven opponents to single digits in scoring.
“It is an exciting time,” Nelson said. “Obviously they’re really, really good, but I feel like, at times, we’ve played that way, so it will be an exciting time for us, and our kids are looking forward to having the chance to play this game.”