Callaway’s season ends in semifinals

Published 9:28 pm Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Kevin Eckleberry

SAVANNAH – They finally met their match.

The Callaway Cavaliers, who have had an extraordinary season, arrived at Savannah State’s Ted Wright Stadium on Friday night hoping to beat the powerful Benedictine Cadets and earn the right to play for the Class AA state championship.

It wasn’t meant to be, though.

Benedictine, which is looking for its second state title in three years, continued its dominance of the rest of Class AA by beating Callaway 49-10.

Benedictine and Fitzgerald will meet next weekend in the Georgia Dome for the Class AA state title, while Callaway’s championship quest came up two wins short.

It was nonetheless a spectacularly successful season for the Cavaliers, who finished 13-1 and reached the final four for the second time in four years.

“I’m really proud of this football team,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “These nine seniors have been great leaders all year long, and we’ve overcome so much adversity. To win 13 games, is very special. It tells the tale of what these guys are about. Obviously tonight was a disappointment. You put this much time, this much work into it, obviously it hurts. But again, these guys are a bunch of winners. And I’m just proud of this football team.”

Callaway, after capturing a thrilling 35-34 road win over Screven County in the quarterfinals, had to go back on the road for the final four.

Benedictine, meanwhile, was at home for its fourth consecutive playoff game.

The Cadets, who’d out-scored their first three playoff opponents 217-20, reached the end zone on their opening possession, and they never let up.

Benedictine led 27-3 at the half, and it built a 49-3 through three quarters.

Callaway scored its lone touchdown when Braylon Sanders, part of the outstanding senior class, scored on a 31-yard run in the fourth quarter.

“It was a great year,” Callaway senior quarterback Dylan Johnson said. “I couldn’t ask for more. The guys, it’s a brotherhood that never ends. We gave it our best. I know everybody did. That’s the only way to go out.”

Benedictine, which has been scoring at will throughout the season, had touchdowns on its first two possessions of Friday’s game to build a 13-0 lead.

John Wesley Kennedy scored on a 12-yard touchdown run on Benedictine’s first possession, and Kennedy then caught a 20-yard scoring pass from Nick Iannone, and Callaway trailed 13-0 midway through the first quarter.

After the teams traded punts, Callaway finally got its offense going.

Junior running back DJ Atkins, who had more than 2,000 yards this season had runs of 16, 15, nine and eight yards to get Callaway deep in Benedictine territory.

It looked like DQ Wilkerson may have caught a 20-yard scoring pass from Johnson, but the official on the spot said he didn’t have possession of the ball.

Two plays later, Noah Stephens made a 37-yard field goal, and Benedictine’s lead was 13-3 with 9:25 left in the half.

The Cadets scored the final 14 points of the first half, and it was Kennedy doing the damage with touchdown runs of 68 and four yards.

The previous week, Callaway trailed 14-3 at the half against Screven County before rallying for the win.

Any hope of a repeat performance was dashed when Benedictine scored touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second half to take a 49-3 lead.

The Cadets also got two points when the ball went out of the back of the end zone on a bad snap to Johnson for a safety.

In the third quarter, the Cadets got a 27-yard touchdown run from Kennedy, a 5-yard scoring run from Cooper Marini, and a 3-yard touchdown run from Terrick Smalls.

Callaway began its only touchdown drive from its own 35-yard line early in the fourth quarter.

Sanders had a first-down run of 15 yards, and Atkins followed with runs of nine and 10 yards.

Sanders capped the drive with a 31-yard touchdown run, and Stephens made the extra point with 7:05 to play.