Playoff time for Cavaliers

Published 10:25 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – Here we go again.

A year ago, the Callaway Cavaliers made an inspired run at a state championship, winning their first 13 games before falling to Benedictine in the Class AA semifinals.

On Friday, Callaway (9-1) kicks off what it hopes will be another extended playoff stay when it hosts Douglass (7-3) in a first-round matchup.

While the Cavaliers’ long-term prospects appear bright, head coach Pete Wiggins isn’t focused on anything but Friday’s opponent.

Douglass-Atlanta, the third-place team from Region 6-AA, will bring a talented and capable team to Callaway Stadium.

Douglass has won six of its past seven games, and it closed the regular season with a 42-0 victory over Clarkston on Saturday.

“Coach (Rodney) Cofield has done a great job in his time at Douglass,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “They’ve got a physical team. And they’ve got a lot of play-makers. And we’ll have to be ready to go.”

For Callaway, it’s been yet another successful regular season under Wiggins.

The Cavaliers have won nine or more games six times in the regular season since 2008.

The Cavaliers have also enjoyed plenty of playoff success over the years.

The Cavaliers have won at least one playoff game every year but once since 2008, and that includes semifinal appearances in 2013 and 2016.

Whether this team can continue that pattern of success remains to be seen, but it has been an impressive season.

Callaway had one stumble against Heard County when it committed five turnovers, but it has been smooth sailing otherwise.

“It’s a great group of kids,” Wiggins said. “They’re dedicated in the weight room, and on the field. It’s been a great group to be around. We have watched them grow up. It’s a big group. It’s a special group of kids, and I’m really proud of their work ethic on and off the field.”

The Cavaliers boast a high-powered offense.

Callaway averages 38 points per game, and it gets it done primarily with a potent running attack.

DJ Atkins, Cartavious Bigsby and Qua Hines have combined to run for more than 2,000 yards with 23 touchdowns.

Atkins is closing in on 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns, and Bigsby leads the team with 11 touchdown runs.

Senior Kedrick Ramsey has started all 10 games at quarterback, and he has been effective.

While the Cavaliers are primarily a running team, they’ve hit numerous big plays through the air, with wide receivers Courtney Williams, DQ Wilkerson and Jacob Freeman each making scoring catches.

The Cavaliers are a different offensive team than they were a year ago when quarterback Dylan Johnson and wide receiver Braylon Sanders were lighting up opposing defenses, but they have been just as effective.

It helps that Callaway has a veteran and talented offensive line that has made sure the backs have plenty of holes to run through.

“We returned four of those (offensive linemen) from last year, and all of them were really good offensive linemen, and good players,” Callaway offensive coordinator Matt Napier said. “We knew that Tank (Bigsby) was going to be special and DJ rushed for 2,300 yards (last year).

“We knew how good he was going to be. And then Qua Hines comes along, too, and we were able to do some packages with all those guys.”

Freeman has also taken his share of snaps at quarterback in the wildcat formation, and he has provided a nice change of pace.

“You throw Jacob Freeman in there and receiver and wildcat, and he’s been a big-play guy,” Napier said.

Defensively, the Cavaliers are giving up an average of 14 points per game.

Callaway struggled a bit defensively in the 35-28 loss to Heard County, but that was the first game back for defensive linemen Lichon Terrell and Jamie Sellers as they returned from injuries.

Neither player was at full strength for that game, but they’re rolling along nicely now.

While Sellers and Terrell both missed multiple games with injuries, Nathan Sapp has been there throughout the season.

Sapps is tops among the defensive linemen in tackles.

“He’s been the kid playing every game,” Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said. “He’s been that one guy who’s been able to stay healthy, and he’s played ends for us. And getting those two guys (Sellers and Terrell) back in the middle helps tremendously.”

Jonathan Leonard leads the team in tackles with 109, and fellow linebackers Tely Fanning and Qua Hines are second and third in tackles.

A strength of the defense is the secondary, with DQ Wilkerson, Kobe Jackson and Courtney Williams leading the way.

On special teams, Noah Stephens has been nearly perfect on extra-point attempts, and he has shown the ability to make field goals from long range.

Stephens has also been effective punting, and he has pinned teams inside the 10-yard line on multiple occasions.

Callaway will face a Douglass team that gets it done almost exclusively with the run.

Quarterback Juan Powell has only thrown 23 passes this season, and he has completed eight of them for 213 yards with three touchdowns.

Powell is a running quarterback, and he has 1,256 yards on 153 carries with 13 touchdowns.

Running back Darryl McClellan Jr. has 863 yards on 112 attempts with 10 touchdowns.

Defensively, Douglass has been stingy, giving up 13 points per game.

The winner of Friday’s game will play either Rockmart or Monticello.

“We just have to take are of one game at a time,” Wiggins said. “It’s a big opponent for us Friday night, and we have to execute, and we have to make plays offensively, defensively, and we have to take care of the ball. We have to put ourselves in good field position.”