Cavaliers hit road with trip to semis on the line

Published 9:40 am Monday, November 20, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

The Callaway Cavaliers found themselves in a 14-0 first-quarter hole against Brooks County a year ago in the second round of the state playoffs.

The Cavaliers shrugged off that early deficit and ended up dominating the remainder of the game to win 28-14, and they beat Screven County in a thriller the following week to reach the semifinals for the second time in four years.

This week, Callaway and Brooks County are headed for a rematch.

Both teams won on the road last week, setting up Friday’s quarterfinal showdown.

There will be one major difference this year.

Last season’s game was at Callaway Stadium, but Friday’s game will be in Brooks County, which is in the southern part of the state, about 15 miles from Valdosta.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to be one of the final eight in Class AA,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins, who has guided five teams to this round of the playoffs. “We’ll keep working hard, and go to Brooks County Friday night.”

Callaway (11-1) kept its season alive with a hard-earned 40-35 victory over Rockmart last week, while Brooks County (11-1) knocked off previously unbeaten Dodge County 35-17.

The winner of this week’s game will play either Screven County or Rabun County in the semifinals.

On the other side of the bracket, Heard County will be on the road against Thomasville, while Benedictine will host Hapeville Charter.

The championship game will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Callaway was pushed to the limit by Rockmart, but it found a way to survive.

Rockmart was behind by six points and driving late when Callaway’s Courtney Williams came through with the play of the game, and perhaps the year.

On fourth down, Tely Fanning got pressure on Rockmart quarterback Dylan Bailey, who threw the ball right to Williams.

Williams raced 96 yards for the touchdown, and Callaway had a 40-28 lead.

“He did a great job on the return,” Callaway head coach Dusty Hubbard said. “He got to the near sideline, and got down the sideline and picked up some blocks, and he ended up going all the way.”

A resilient Rockmart team drove for a final touchdown with 26 seconds remaining, but it was unable to recover the onside kick.

“I’m really proud of our kids’ effort throughout the night,” Wiggins said. “We faced adversities through the night. And the kids’ effort was consistent, and I was proud of their attitude for four quarters.”

Offensively, DJ Atkins led the way for Callaway with 18 carries for 108 yards, and he went over 1,000 yards for the season.

Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby had 54 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown against Rockmart, and Qua Hines ran for 49 yards on six attempts with a pair of touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Kedrick Ramsey threw touchdown passes to Jacob Freeman and DQ Wilkerson.

Freeman completed 6-of-8 passes for 104 yards.

This is Ramsey’s first season as the starting quarterback, and he has helped lead the Cavaliers to an 11-1 record and a berth in the quarterfinals.

“Kedrick did a great job leading our team tonight,” Wiggins said. “He gets better each week, and I think his composure in the huddle has improved throughout the season. I’m just proud of his leadership he has displayed each week.”

Callaway’s defense allowed more than 450 yards of offense and 35 points, but it made the play when it had to.

“Big play for Courtney at the end on the pick six,” Wiggins said. “It put us up late and gave us momentum. It’s just a guy that worked hard, and I was really proud of him for the play he made.”

Rockmart (9-3) brought an eight-game winning streak into the game, and it pushed Callaway to the limit before falling just short.

“Rockmart’s got a great football team,” Wiggins said. “We had some opportunities to separate more than we did, and I don’t feel like we took advantage of that. To our kids’ credit, they kept their heads high, and we fought through adversities and ultimately won the game.”

One of those opportunities the Cavaliers had to create some separation came in the second quarter after they built a 28-14 lead on back-to-back touchdown runs by Hines.

Late in the half, Callaway’s defense was on the field with a chance to stop Rockmart and give the ball back to the offense.

Instead, Rockmart drove for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the half to make it a 28-21 game.

The big play on that drive was a successful fake punt, although Hubbard said it’s a play the Cavaliers were prepared for.

“I felt like the only frustrating drive where we didn’t play well was the one right before the half,” Hubbard said. “We’re up 28-14, and we get a stop on the about 45 and it’s fourth-and-eight. And we didn’t even put our punt-return on. We kept our defense out. And they faked a punt, and we had them for about a 3-yard gain, and we missed two or three tackles in a row and the kid fought and got a first down. And they scored with about 25 seconds to go in the half, and we felt like we kind of gave them that one.”

In the first half, Bigsby had a 31-yard touchdown run, Hines had scoring runs of six and three yards, and Ramsey threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Freeman.

Early in the second half, Ramsey found Wilkerson for a 15-yard touchdown pass, but Rockmart scored late in the third quarter to trim Callaway’s lead to 34-28.

That’s the way it remained until Williams’ big play.

Callaway’s defense, which had a difficult time slowing Rockmart in the opening half, performed much better in the second half according to Hubbard.

Rockmart’s third-quarter touchdown came after it recovered a fumble deep in Callaway territory.

It’s other second-half touchdown came with Callaway playing a prevent defense with less than a minute remaining.

“I think we played a lot more sound in the second half,” Hubbard said. “They had a long drive and got down inside the five, and we stopped them. They turned it over on downs.

“We fumbled three or four plays later, and they got it back on the 15 and went in and scored. And then the very last drive of the game, we were playing two safeties really deep trying to make sure they didn’t score in a hurry.”

Linebacker Jonathan Leonard led the team with 17 tackles.

Hubbard also said linebacker R.J. Williams came through with a big effort, while senior defensive lineman Lichon Terrell helped control things up front.