Big plays power Cavaliers
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – There was nothing between DQ Wilkerson and the end zone but green turf.
With a little more than two minutes remaining in the first half of Friday’s season-opening showdown at Callaway Stadium, the LaGrange Grangers lined up for a potential game-tying field goal against the Callaway Cavaliers.
The Grangers hadn’t done much offensively, but thanks to an outstanding effort from the defense, they were hanging tough.
LaGrange had the ball deep in Callaway territory after forcing a turnover, and that led to a 40-yard field goal attempt by Matt Rainey.
The snap was on target and Rainey got the kick away, but Callaway’s Lichon Terrell came charging through and got his hands on the ball for the block.
The ball bounced into the waiting arms of Wilkerson, who looked up and saw no one in his path.
Wilkerson raced 50 yards for what proved to be a momentum-turning touchdown, and Callaway didn’t look back on the way to a 26-0 victory.
“I heard the crowd cheering and I thought I’m going to score,” Wilkerson said. “It just felt awesome.”
That was the first of two touchdowns the Cavaliers scored in the closing stretches of the first half.
Following Wilkerson’s touchdown, the Grangers went three-and-out and punted.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, quarterback Kedrick Ramsey threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Courtney Williams, and the Cavaliers headed to the half with a 17-0 lead.
In a span of about 70 seconds, the Cavaliers turned a 3-0 lead into a 17-point cushion, which was massive considering how much difficulty the Grangers were having moving the ball.
Two big plays helped determine the outcome of the game.
There was the touchdown on the field-goal attempt, as well as the scoring catch by Williams where he came down with the ball around the 15-yard line, even though he was blanketed by two LaGrange defenders.
“After the blocked field goal, we had an interception and their guy (Williams) took it away,” LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks said. “Take those away, and it’s a three-point ballgame. But that’s what we have to learn how to get over. We have to learn how to get over that hump where we don’t allow those mistakes to be killers.”
The field-goal block was a massive turning point.
Had the kick gone through the uprights, the Grangers would have possibly headed to the locker room in a tie game, and they would have returned for the second half with momentum.
Instead, it was the Cavaliers celebrating a touchdown that helped turn the tide.
“Plays like that change momentum, and put points on the board,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “Our guys work hard on special teams and that’s a big part of it, so I was really proud of their effort.”
It was a special moment for Wilkerson, a senior corner back who was a part of Callaway’s suffocating defensive effort.
“It was a wonderful moment just being my last time playing against LaGrange,” Wilkerson said. “It was just a great moment to go out with a bang and play hard.”
The next big play came after Callaway’s defense forced LaGrange to punt.
Ramsey rolled out, and he threw the ball in Williams’ direction, even though the senior was covered.
Williams came down with the ball, and after he landed, he covered the rest of the ground to the end zone for the touchdown.
“I’m proud of him,” Wiggins said. “Good players make plays in big situations, and he did that and was able to get in the end zone. I was really proud of his effort.”
Williams, who also plays basketball, said it was sort of like going up for a rebound in traffic.
“That’s what I was trying to focus on, just go get the ball,” Williams said. “I just had to go make a play.”
Another one of Callaway’s senior play-makers, defensive back Kobe Jackson, thought he’d scored a touchdown in the third quarter when he went the distance after making an interception.
The play was wiped out by a roughing-the-quarterback penalty, but the Cavaliers got the ball moments later anyway when Nathan Sapp recovered a fumble.
Eight plays later, Ramsey scored on a 4-yard run, and the Cavaliers led 24-0 late in the third quarter.
Sophomore running back Cartavious Bigsby and Ramsey both had 16-yard runs on the drive to put the ball deep in LaGrange territory.
Qua Hines had a 12-yard run on the scoring drive, and fullback Gabriel Moultrie had a 7-yard run.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers blocked a punt, and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety to cap the scoring.
Callaway’s first points came on a 23-yard field goal by Stephens in the second quarter.
Ramsey had the big play on that scoring drive, a 22-yard run.
Stephens also made two extra points, and Hunter Williamson converted the third and final extra point.
While Callaway’s offense had a hard time getting anything going, the defensive effort was superb from beginning to end.
Among the highlights was Jackson’s leaping interception in the first half, and he had the pick six that was wiped out by the penalty in the second half.
“I thought our defense played fast and physical,” Wiggins said. “I thought they set the tone for the game. We ran to the ball, and made a lot of big plays.”
The same goes for LaGrange’s defense.
The Cavaliers’ two offensive touchdowns came on a remarkable individual effort by Williams, and at the end of a drive where they only needed to go 48 yards.
Callaway’s DJ Atkins, who had more than 2,000 yards last season, was stymied by LaGrange’s defense.
Offensively, the Grangers stuck with the game plan, which was to run the ball out of their Wing T attack.
The Grangers had some occasional success, but they were mostly ineffective moving the ball against the Cavaliers.
“The defense played very well,” Burks said. “Offensively, we’re still trying to find our niche. I like that we’re running the football. We want to do some things in the passing game. We had some drops. We had some pressures which caused (Charles Crawford) to throw the ball (early).”
Wiggins was pleased to see his team get started with a win, but he said there’s a lot of work left to do.
“We had a turnover early in the game, and we had a lot of penalties down the stretch,” Wiggins said. “There were a lot of missed blocking assignment we’ve got to get better at. Se we’ll go back to work Sunday and keep rolling.”