The ninth-ranked Longhorns clicked on both sides of the ball, jumped on Pope early and never let up in a 31-3 victory over their east Cobb and Region 7AAAAA (B) rival.
Kell (8-1, 4-0) will host Forsyth Central in next week’s region play-in game, with a win giving the Longhorns the region title and a No. 1 seed for the state playoffs.
Now the No. 2 seed in the southern subregion, Pope (6-3, 3-1) will host Northview, the No. 3 seed of the north, for a state playoff berth.
“We wanted to be No. 1 from our side. If not, you basically go to No. 3 (for the state playoffs),” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “Going into the playoffs, you don’t want to go on the road, and you don’t want to go to either Tucker or M.L. King. The home playoffs are definitely an advantage, and you like your chances if you’re No. 1 going into the situation.”
A team that normally depends on its running game, Kell had success throwing the ball Friday night.
Matthew McGuigan completed 13 of 20 pass attempts for 210 yards and a touchdown, while Quincy Mauger accounted for half of McGuigan’s yards with 105 on six catches.
Kell’s offense was on the field for more than 9 minutes in the first quarter and already had a 17-0 lead when the period ended.
The play that helped break the game open came in the final minute of the first quarter, when Jay Moxey intercepted Sam Yarborough’s pass attempt near midfield and returned it all the way to the Pope 9-yard line. Jamari Moore finished the drive two plays later on a 6-yard run.
Pope countered with a long drive of its own at the beginning of the second quarter, highlighted by a 40-yard completion from Ronald Woods to Mason Shiflett, but the Greyhounds only got a 19-yard field goal out of it.
Kell shut out the Greyhounds the rest of the way.
“They have a lot of athletes,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said of Kell. “They made plays, and hats off to them.”
The Longhorns added another score on their next drive, when they began at their own 46-yard line, courtesy of back-to-back special teams penalties by Pope. They glided into Pope territory, and Brendan Langley found the end zone on an 11-yard gain — though he seemingly ran about 40 yards to get there.
Langley took the pitch on a reverse and attempted to run right, but Pope defenders were waiting for him. He then tried running left and outran the defenders on the left side and into the end zone.
While Kell’s offense was finding different way to score, its defense was efficient in shutting down Pope’s running game.
Woods, who had been productive in the backfield during the six-game win streak Pope took into Friday’s game, was held to just 33 yards. Itabari Mason ended up with 70 yards, with most coming after Kell had built an insurmountable lead.
“We played well on both sides of the ball,” Cook said. “Defensively, we were able to slow their running game early, and we hit some big plays on them.”
Kell capped the scoring midway through the third quarter, when it decided to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Pope 36.
As McGuigan threw deep down the left sideline, the ball sailed through the outstretched hands of Pope’s Braden Zarbinsky, who was trying for the interception, and it went into the hands of Langley, who had an open path to the end zone.