They didn’t want to leave the field.
And who can blame them?
It was the biggest win in the history of the Callaway High football program, and it had just taken place in the Cavaliers’ home stadium.
The Cavaliers had made it to the state quarterfinals once before, but heading into Friday’s game against St. Pius, they’d never advanced to the semifinals in the 18-year history of the program.
The Cavaliers can cross that off their to-do list.
After Friday’s 35-21 victory over St. Pius, Callaway is heading to the final four where it will take on Buford.
When the clock struck zero Friday night, the reaction was exactly what you’d expect.
After the players for the two teams shook hands, the Callaway players and coaches, along with family members and other well-wishers, celebrated on the field.
Usually after a game the team will spend a few minutes on the field before heading to the bus.
But on this night, no one was ready to exit the turf of Callaway Stadium.
There were hugs, hand shakes, and a whole lot of smiles.
“They deserve this,” Callaway offensive coordinator Matt Napier said. “It’s a process, and a lot of work going into it. The kids paying the price in January, from then on out working their butt off. They deserve every bit of it. I feel fortunate just to be a part of it.”
The Callaway football program is on a phenomenal run.
Since 2008, Callaway has an overall record of 57-16, and that’s an average of nearly 10 wins per season.
Over that same stretch, Callaway is 8-6 in the playoffs, and it has won at least one playoff game in five of the past six years.
In the past two years, the Cavaliers have really taken off.
They went 10-2 a year ago, and they’re 12-1 this season, just one victory away from playing for a state championship.
This sort of success doesn’t just happen.
There’s a whole lot that goes into it.
It starts with the players, naturally.
No matter how dedicated and gifted a coaching staff is, without having talented players, there’s not much you can do.
There’s a lot more to it than that, though.
Those players have to be fully invested in what the coaches are trying to teach them, and those coaches have to be teaching the right things.
And everyone, from the head coach down to the third-team players, has to realize this is a year-round business.
Fans see what happens on a Friday night, but most of them don’t see all of the hard work that goes into putting a winning product onto the field.
They don’t see the hard work done in the weight room in January, or the time these players dedicate during the summer to bettering themselves.
Everyone associated with the Callaway football program is 100-percent invested in this process, and this is the payoff.
“It means a lot to us,” said one of the team leaders, senior offensive lineman Brandon Sutton. “From Day 1, we’ve been talking about this, winning it, going all the way.”
The architect of the program’s success is Wiggins, who was an assistant coach at Callaway before taking over as the head coach in 2005.
The Cavaliers missed the playoffs in Wiggins’ first year, and they made the playoffs in 2006 and fell in the first round.
Although the Cavaliers lost again in the opening round of the playoffs in 2007, they won eight games that year, setting the table for the success to come.
The Cavaliers won 10 games in 2008, and they haven’t looked back since.
Wiggins, by the way, now has a career record of 74-31 in nine years as Callaway’s coach, and that was after his teams went 9-12 in his first two years.
You won’t get Wiggins to blow his own horn, though.
He always deflects credit to the players, to the coaches, to the support staff, to the Callaway community as a whole.
Wiggins is the man in charge, though, and he has put together an exceptional, first-class program.
Now, the Cavaliers will try to take it a step further and make it to the state-championship game.
All they have to do is beat a Buford team that seemingly never loses.
The Wolves won state championships in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012, and they lost in overtime in the 2011 championship game to Calhoun.
Buford is just a football team, though.
An exceptional, world-class football team, perhaps the best team in the state regardless of classification, but still just a team filled with high-school players.
Buford has plenty of advantages going its way, but so does Callaway.
The Cavaliers will go into the game believing they can win, and there are a lot of teams who haven’t felt that way going up against Buford.
Sutton said the players are “100 percent confident” heading into Friday’s game, and that’s the way they have to think.
And from being around these players, that isn’t false-confidence.
These men have no doubt they can stun the state Friday night and knock Buford off of its throne.
Whatever happens, it has been a fantastic season, and hats off to everyone involved for making it happen.
We’ll see you at Buford.
It’ll be another night of playoff football, and there’s nothing better than that.