Cavaliers move on after dramatic win

Published 12:58 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – A few months ago, Callaway’s Braylon Sanders was part of a memorable play when he made a game-winning catch in the closing moments of a dramatic 35-34 victory over Screven County in the quarterfinals of the state football playoffs.

On Friday night, Sanders did it again, albeit in a different sport.

In the final seconds of the state-tournament basketball game against Coosa, the Cavaliers had the ball with a chance to get the win.

Head coach Terry Hayes called the final play for Sanders, and he drove toward the basket and lofted the ball over the out-stretched hand of a Coosa defender.

The ball fell into the net, and the Cavaliers had the 62-60 win in the first round of the Class AA state tournament.

The shot was part of a big night for Sanders, who scored 18 points and came through with some critical plays down the stretch as the Cavaliers rallied from a seven-point deficit with less than three minutes to play.

In the final 90 seconds, Sanders scored six points, and he grabbed the rebound with four seconds remaining that set up the game-winning shot.

The Cavaliers trailed by seven late, but they didn’t panic, and they found themselves in a tie game when Sanders pulled down a rebound following a missed shot by the Eagles.

Tamarcus Smith said he and his teammates were confident Sanders would get the job done.

“He’s going to score,” Smith said. “No doubt. He’s determined.”

That the Cavaliers would be in position to even attempt a game-winning shot was very much in doubt moments earlier.

The Eagles, after falling behind by 11 points late in the third period, took control and were ahead 56-49 with 2:52 to play.

There was still plenty of time remaining, though, and the Cavaliers kept their poise and chipped away at the deficit.

It helped that so many of the players have been through pressure moments before either in basketball, or football.

“We’ve had the pressure,” said junior DQ Wilkerson, who had a touchdown catch in the second half of the win over Screven County in November.  “Some people can’t handle the pressure, and we can. We just played hard.”

Another man who plays football and basketball, Kedrick Ramsey, made a pair of free throws with 2:46 to play to jump-start the comeback.

“We couldn’t let each other get down,” Ramsey said. “We just had to keep each other up, and we just kept playing, and scoring.”

Kobe Jackson, who was a defensive back on the football team last fall, made two free throws with 2:30 to play, and the Coosa lead was down to three.

The Eagles managed to hang onto the lead until, with 21 seconds remaining, Sanders had a tip-in of a missed shot, and the score was tied at 60-60.

The Eagles missed a shot that would have given them the lead, and Sanders came down with the ball and called a timeout.

There was little doubt that Sanders, who has been starting since he was a freshman, would be the man with the ball in his hands at the end.

“We feel pretty good about that,” Ramsey said. “We got the ball to him, and he made the shot. It shows how good he is.”

Smith, who has had a breakout season, had 13 points for the Cavaliers, with eight of those points coming in the third quarter.

Ramsey also scored 13 points, and Wilkerson scored eight.

Milton Turner and Jackson had four points apiece, and Lazarrick Prather had two points.

A lot of Callaway’s points came from turnovers forced by the pressure defense, and that was the case during the late-game run.

Coosa committed some critical and costly turnovers in the final minutes, and that was a credit to Callaway’s defense.

“We rotated right, and got steals, and that turned into transition offense,” Wilkerson said.

The bottom line was, the Cavaliers did what they had to do to survive and advance, and when a season reaches this point, that’s all that matters.

“Coach said we were going to have adversity coming into the game, and we had a lot of it,” Sanders said. “We just overcame it, and kept on fighting.”