It’s a semifinal rematch

By Kevin Eckleberry

February 28, 2014

Here we go again.

Less than three months ago, Callaway and Buford squared off in the semifinals of the Class AAA state football playoffs.

It was an intense, hard-fought game.

Callaway jumped out to a 14-7 halftime lead, but a powerful Buford team dominated the second half and won 24-14.

Although Callaway lost the game, it gained plenty of respect across the state for hanging in there.

Buford went 15-0 and crushed most of its opponents, but it had its hands full with Callaway.

The 10-point margin of victory was Buford’s smallest of the season.

Now, Callaway is getting another shot at Buford, and this time the setting will be a basketball court.

At 3 p.m. today at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Callaway (22-6) and Buford (26-5) will meet in the semifinals of the Class AAA state tournament.

If Callaway is able to reverse the script and beat Buford this time around, it will play for a state championship next weekend in Macon.

“We’re not satisfied,” Callaway senior Jeremiah Simpson said. “We want to get the win (today).”

If the Cavaliers keep playing like they have been, they’ll have a great chance of dispatching the Wolves.

The Cavaliers have won nine straight games, and three of those wins have come in the state tournament.

After thumping Peach County 82-65 in the first round, Callaway used a dominant closing stretch to beat Thomson 87-83 in the second round.

In Thursday’s quarterfinal showdown, Callaway took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and then withstood a late Swainsboro charge to win 71-68.

The Cavaliers have gotten it done with a suffocating defense that has forced a bunch of turnovers, leading to game-deciding runs.

In the first round, the game was tied 54-54 through three periods, but Callaway outscored Peach County 28-11 in the fourth quarter to win going away.

In the second round, Callaway trailed 81-76 with 2:30 left in the game, but the Bulldogs fell apart late and were unable to handle the Cavaliers’ pressure.

Callaway used an 11-0 run to salt that game away.

Against Swainsboro, the decisive stretch came in the third period.

The Cavaliers went on a 15-2 run over the first three minutes of the third quarter to go up by 14 points.

Things got tight late, but Callaway never lost the lead and won by three.

A common thread throughout the season, and this has been especially evident during the nine-game winning streak, has been Callaway’s ability to take over games in the second half.

That’s due to the Cavaliers’ depth, as well as the hard work the team puts in during practice.

“At practice, we give it all we’ve got, so at the end of the practice we’re exhausted,” junior Terry Godwin said. “We come out here, and the fourth quarter is just like the first quarter to us. We have a lot more energy, and we just do what we have to do.”

Callaway will need to be at its best to get past a strong Buford team.

The Wolves have won 21 straight games, and they’ve won three games in the state tournament, including Thursday’s 80-73 victory over Cartersville in the quarterfinals.

Buford had to fight from behind.

The Wolves trailed by 11 points in the third period, but they’d cut that deficit to four heading into the fourth quarter.

Buford dominated the final quarter to earn its semifinal berth.

Rakim Lubin had a huge game for Buford with 31 points and 14 rebounds, and D’Marcus Simonds had 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

“It’ll be a tough ballgame,” Hayes said. “We have to stop turning the ball over, and play a little better defense. We’re getting in foul trouble a little too easy. We have to move our feet.”

The Cavaliers’ have been a terrific defensive team all season, and Godwin said that can’t change today.

“We have to work on our defense, mostly just stop them from penetrating and keep them off the glass,” Godwin said.

The Cavaliers have also been terrific offensively in the state tournament, although they did get into trouble against Swainsboro in the fourth quarter when they started turning the ball over.

“We have to limit the turnovers, and play our game,” freshman Braylon Sanders said.