Callaway’s Leonard has monster night

Published 7:42 pm Sunday, September 17, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

THOMASTON – The game was effectively over.

As the Upson-Lee Knights prepared to run one final play in Friday’s game, the Callaway Cavaliers had a 14-point lead, so the outcome had been determined.

While some players may have already mentally checked out, that’s not the way Callaway senior linebacker Jonathan Leonard operates.

If there’s time on the clock, if there’s football still be played, Leonard’s motor is running and he’s giving it 100 percent.

That mindset was perfectly exemplified on that final play.

Upson-Lee’s quarterback put the ball in the air, and Leonard ranged to his right and made a phenomenal one-handed interception at the 30-yard line.

Leonard started racing toward the Upson-Lee end zone, and 70 yards later he was celebrating a touchdown.

That was part of a monster night for Leonard, who helped

Callaway beat Upson-Lee 40-20 to improve to 4-0.

Leonard, who was coming off a 13-tackle effort the previous week against Columbus, had 17 tackles against Upson-Lee, including 15 solo stops.

In four games, Leonard has 48 tackles, putting him on pace to have a second consecutive 100-tackle season.

“Jonathan Leonard is such a competitor,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “No matter what game, no matter what field, he is going to be around the ball. He’s just a special young man with a big heart, and he gives you everything he’s got on the field each week.”

Leonard had a big junior season for the Cavaliers, who went 13-1 and reached the Class AA semifinals a year ago.

While senior linebacker Michael Freeman led the team with 123 tackles, Leonard was close behind with 109.

As the 2017 season approached, Leonard was set to take over for Freeman as the leaders of the linebacker unit.

“I just came in knowing what I’ve got to do,” Leonard said. “I had some big shoes to fill with Michael Freeman. I knew I had to step it up.”

Leonard said his mindset is “to give 100 percent effort on every single play, because I know it’ll pay off in the end.”

After watching Leonard perform against Upson-Lee, Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said “it seemed like he made every tackle.”

Hubbard said the 5-foot-10 Leonard is “just a ballplayer.”

“You can’t teach the things that he does,” Hubbard added. “You try to teach the other linebackers, and they just can’t do what he does.”

Leonard finished his big night in style with the pick six.

“I promised my dad an interception this game, so I knew I had to get one,” Leonard said.

Leonard had a clean path to the end zone, and he had some teammates around him to serve as blockers.

“I just hoped I would (score),” Leonard said. “I got exhausted halfway, but I knew I had to keep pushing.”

It wasn’t an easy night for the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers had a 21-6 lead at the half, but twice in the second half the Knights got within a score.

After the Knights made it a 27-20 game with nine minutes left, the Cavs needed one play to extend their lead.

Callaway quarterback Kedrick Ramsey tossed a backward pass to running back Qua Hines, who threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jacob Freeman.

It’s a play the Cavaliers worked on in practice, and Hines was ready for it.

“I told him before the game, I’ll try to get it to you,” Hines said. “I saw him open, and I threw it to him.”

That was Freeman’s second touchdown catch of the game.

After a DQ Wilkerson interception on the game’s first play from scrimmage, Callaway had the ball at midfield.

On first down, Ramsey dropped back and threw deep to Freeman for a 50-yard touchdown for the game’s first score.

Also in the first half, Callaway got a 14-yard scoring run from Hines, and an 11-yard touchdown run from Ramsey.

Upson-Lee scored a third-quarter touchdown to make it a 21-13 game, but DJ Atkins had a 30-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to put Callaway on top 27-13.

After the Knights came back with a touchdown to get within seven, Hines found Freeman for the long scoring pass, and the Cavaliers were up by 14 with 8:40 to play.

Upson-Lee had scored touchdown on two of its previous three possessions, and it drove to the Callaway 21-yard line before it was stopped on fourth down.

The Cavaliers picked up a first down and punted, but the Knights only had 1:18 left when they got the ball.

Moments later, Leonard put the finishing touches on the victory with his touchdown, and Callaway returned home still unbeaten.

“They’ve got a good football team, and this is a tough atmosphere,” Wiggins said. “They had a big crowd tonight. There were things that went against us, but we kept fighting, kept our heads up and the effort was great throughout the night.”