Perfect Cavaliers at halfway point
Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2017
By Kevin Eckleberry
HOGANSVILLE – When he put together this season’s schedule, Callaway head football coach Pete Wiggins knew how much of a grind it would be for his team.
All five of Callaway’s non-region games are against teams in higher classifications, and the list of opponents includes a powerhouse program in Alabama that won a state championship a year ago.
Despite the rugged terrain presented by that non-region schedule, though, Callaway has reached the halfway point of the regular season with an unblemished record.
Callaway, which is off this week, improved to 5-0 with last week’s dramatic 28-27 victory over Harris County.
Callaway now turns its attention to the Region 5-AA schedule that begins with a home game against Lamar County on Oct. 5.
“It’s tough games week in and week out, and I’m really proud of our kids’ never-say-die attitude,” Wiggins said.
Callaway extended its regular-season winning streak to 24 with the win over Harris County, but it wasn’t easy.
For the first time this season, the Cavaliers trailed, but they were unfazed.
Callaway trailed 27-21 in the fourth quarter, but it scored a
touchdown with six minutes remaining to pull even, and it took the lead on an extra point by Noah Stephens.
A defense that had struggled all night made a huge stop to force a punt, and Callaway’s offense was able to run out the clock.
“We were in some positions that we haven’t seen this year, and we kept fighting back,” Wiggins said. “Again, that’s what good football teams do. They’re able to overcome adversities and deficits, and our kids really kept to our game plan and kept grinding, and again, it was a great effort throughout the game.”
DJ Atkins, who finished with more than 100 yards, had a touchdown run, as did fellow running back Qua Hines.
Quarterback Kedrick Ramsey also had a scoring run, and he threw a 60-yard scoring pass to Jacob Freeman on the Cavaliers’ first play.
The Harris County game came just six days after Callaway pulled away late to beat Upson-Lee 40-20 in a hard-fought road game.
In the Upson-Lee and Harris County games, Callaway faced plenty of adversity, but it found a way to prevail.
“We have great team chemistry out here,” Freeman said. “We’re brothers.”
Callaway began its season with a 26-0 victory over LaGrange, and it followed that up with a 35-0 win over Handley, which won a state championship in Alabama last year.
Callaway then beat Columbus 44-13 in another blowout victory before earning the tough 40-20 win over Upson-Lee.
It was a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, but Callaway finished strong, with Jonathan Leonard returning an interception for a touchdown as time expired.
Against Harris County, Callaway fell behind in the fourth quarter on a 52-yard touchdown run by Cal’Von Harris.
The extra point was missed following the touchdown, and that would be critical.
Hines had a 68-yard run to the Harris County 2-yard line, and Atkins followed with a scoring run to pull Callaway even.
Stephens, who has been nearly flawless on extra points the past two seasons, made the kick to cap the scoring and give Callaway the lead.
Extra points can seem like small parts of a game, but as Callaway showed against Harris County, making them can be the difference between winning and losing.’
“So many games come down to little things,” Wiggins said. “When those opportunities are there, you always have to take advantage of them.”
Callaway’s defense was short-handed against Harris County, with standout defensive lineman Lichon Terrell among the players unable to go.
As they’ve done consistently over the years, though, the Cavaliers found a way to prevail, no matter who was on the field.
“It’s the next man up,” Callaway’s Gabriel Moultrie said. “We do what we have to do and never give up.”
A hallmark of the Callaway offense midway through the regular season is its ability to strike for big plays.
Jacob Freeman, the brother of KeShun Freeman and Michael Freeman who are both playing college football, has three touchdown catches of at least 50 yards the past two weeks.
Jacob Freeman has also occasionally lined up at quarterback, and he had a critical fourth-down run against Harris County that helped seal the win in the fourth quarter.
“I’m loving it,” Freeman said of his role on offense. “As long as I’m helping my team win, I don’t have any problem with it.”
Atkins, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season, is having another solid year, and Hines and Moultrie have also been outstanding at running back as well.
“When I’m out of the game, there’s still a good running back in the game,” Atkins said. “I feel like we have a lot of options this year.”
Junior Keiondre Jones, part of a superb offensive line, enjoys blocking for Atkins and company.
“It’s real fun knowing that if you do what you do what you’ve got to do, they’ve got a chance to go yard,” Jones said. “It’s a real good feeling.”
Callaway’s defense has been stingy most of the season, although that unit had a difficult time slowing down Harris County last week.
Even in that game, though, when crunch time arrived, Callaway’s defense was up to the challenge.
Leonard, a senior linebacker, leads the Cavaliers in tackles this season, and he is on track for a second straight 100-tackle season.
Leonard said the mindset is the same for he and every defensive player.
“You’ve got to give 100 percent effort on every single play, because I know it’ll pay off in the end,” Leonard said.
Callaway will play every week for the rest of the season.
The Cavaliers end the regular season with five consecutive region games, and they could conceivably play five playoff games if they reach the state-championship game.
A year ago, Callaway won three consecutive playoff games before losing to Benedictine in the Class AA semifinals.