Cavaliers hope to stay alive

Published 10:01 pm Thursday, November 16, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

This never gets old.

Under head coach Pete Wiggins, the Callaway Cavaliers have made it past the first round of the state playoffs every year but once since 2008, and they’re a year removed from reaching the semifinals.

Just because the Cavaliers have been here before doesn’t lessen the eagerness and excitement they feel as they get ready for a playoff game, though.

Callaway will be at Rockmart today for the second round of the Class AA state playoffs, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals.

“Each week, the schedule gets more difficult. There are fewer teams, there are better teams each week,” said Pete Wiggins, Callaway’s head coach since 2005. “There’s an excitement, and there’s also a feeling of urgency at our practices. The kids know that it’s win or go home.”

That sense of urgency is especially prevalent among the seniors, who know the next game could be their last.

Defensive lineman Jamie Sellers said that feeling has been there all along as he and the other seniors realized their time as high-school players was coming to a close.

“I feel that all the time,” Sellers said. “Even during the regular season I thought I’ve got to make the game count. I don’t know how many I’ve got left in me.”

Sellers is hoping there will be at least one more game to play after tonight.

To make that a reality, Callaway will have to find a way to dispatch a talented Rockmart team that has thrived under head coach Biff Parson.

Rockmart dropped two of its first three games, but it has won eight in a row, including last week’s 47-7 victory over Monticello.

During the winning streak, the Yellow Jackets haven’t scored fewer than 32 points in a game, and in seven of those eight games they’ve scored 40 or more points.

Rockmart has been getting it done on the defensive end as well.

In its past three games, Rockmart has given up a total of 17 points.

“Their offense is very explosive, and it’s one of the top offenses we’ve seen this year,” Wiggins said. “They do a great job of putting their play-makers in space. (Parson is) a really good play-caller. Defensively, they’re tough, and they’re sound. Their defensive line is really physical.”

Rockmart is primarily a running team, although quarterback Dylan Bailey has thrown for 835 yards with nine touchdowns.

The Yellow Jackets have been wrecking opponents with their powerful running game.

Rockmart averages nearly 350 rushing yards per game, and five players have run for 200 or more yards.

Zabrion Whatley leads the Rockmart rushing attack, and he has been unstoppable.

Whatley has 1,409 yards on 108 carries, an average of 13 yards per attempt, and he has scored 20 touchdowns.

Markus Smith has been getting it done as well with 802 yards on 94 attempts with 17 touchdowns.

Bailey has chipped in with 526 yards on 60 attempts with six touchdowns, and Ant Lester has 397 yards on 40 carries.

“I think they’ve got an explosive team, and we’ve got to limit the mistakes,” Wiggins said.

Rockmart’s only two losses came to a Cedartown team that is in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, and a Woodland-Cartersville team that plays in Class AAAAA.

“They played a tough schedule,” Wiggins said. “They played a really good Cedartown team, and they played Woodland. They beat a 10-1 playoff team in Piedmont, Ala. So, they’re a difficult team to play.”

The same goes for Callaway.

The Cavaliers (10-1)have reached double digits in wins for the seventh time since 2008, and only a close loss to the Heard County Braves kept them from posting a second straight perfect regular season.

Since that loss, Callaway has won four straight games, all by blowout, and it overwhelmed a strong Douglass-Atlanta team 28-8 last week.

Sophomore running back Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby ran for 128 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns, and DJ Atkins had 70 yards on 15 attempts with a touchdown.

Bigsby and Atkins will both likely surpass 1,000 yards for the season in today’s game.

Senior quarterback Kedrick Ramsey, who has done such an outstanding job running the offense this season, added a 1-yard touchdown run.

Sophomore Jacob Freeman is another big-play threat for Callaway.

Freeman is primarily a wide receiver, but he has also been effective lining up in the wildcat formation at quarterback.

Senior wide receivers Cortney Williams and DQ Wilkerson have each provided big plays in the passing game.

Defensively, senior linebacker Jonathan Leonard had 11 tackles with a forced fumble, and Tely Fanning had eight tackles.

Lichon Terrell (five tackles) and Jamie Sellers (four tackles) held things down on the defensive line.

The defensive backfield is a strength for Callaway with Kobe Jackson, DQ Wilkerson and Courtney Williams leading the way.

On special teams, Noah Stephens has been terrific as a place-kicker and punter.

In the return game, Wilkerson had a pair of touchdowns on punts in a game against Columbus.

“Douglass was a very physical team, and defensively I thought we challenged them,” Wiggins said. “We were really physical up front. Our linebackers ran to the ball, and the back end of the defense played well. From an offensive standpoint, our offensive line played hard, our backs ran hard. (Ramsey) did a great job. I think he gets better each week and does a great job leading. Again, it was a tough opponent, and I’m proud of our kids’ effort.”

The Cavaliers put the finishing touches on their week of preparation with a short practice on Thursday, and they’ll hit the road this afternoon looking to keep their season alive.

“I think the effort has been really high in preparation for our playoff games, and the kids are excited and they’re confident, and they believe in what they’re doing,” Wiggins said. “They want to keep playing. They enjoy practice. The preparation that they’ve put in has been high, and I think that leads to success.”


WHAT: Second round of Class AA state playoffs

WHEN: Today, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Rockmart

RECORDS: Callaway (10-1); Rockmart (9-2)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway finished second in Region 5-AA and beat Douglass-Atlanta 28-8 in the first round of the state playoffs; Rockmart finished first in Region 7-AA and beat Monticello 47-7 in the first round of the state playoffs

UP NEXT: The winner will play either Brooks County or Dodge County in the quarterfinals