Strong opening statement for Callaway
Published 12:44 am Saturday, August 25, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was anybody’s game.
Midway through the third quarter, the Callaway Cavaliers and Opelika Bulldogs were locked in a tie ballgame.
Both teams were throwing heavyweight punches, yet no one had delivered the knockout blow.
That was about to change.
The Cavaliers, before a packed house at Callaway Stadium, got a 20-yard touchdown run from Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby late in the third quarter, and they didn’t look back.
That was the first of three consecutive touchdowns for Callaway, which beat Opelika 35-21 in a highly-anticipated border matchup.
“We believe in what we do, and when these kids come on the field, they expect to win,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. I was really proud of everybody.”
Bigsby and quarterback Jacob Freeman both put up massive rushing numbers, and Callaway’s defense stood tall
against a formidable Opelika offense.
Opelika is a ranked team in Class AAAAAA in Alabama, but it was unable to keep pace with Callaway, which plays in Class AA.
“We’ve been talking about it all week in practice. Don’t ever give up on each other,” said Bigsby, who had more than 200 yards with three touchdowns. “Lean on each other. We’re all brothers.”
Bigsby had his way with Opelika’s defense with touchdown runs of two, 20 and 26 yards.
Freeman had a big night as well, and his 17-yard scoring run late in the first half put Callaway on the board.
Callaway’s defense got into the act as well, with Markus Morman returning an interception nearly the length of the field for a touchdown late in the game that pushed the lead to 35-14.
Opelika scored the game’s final touchdown with less than three minutes left, but the outcome had already been decided.
“They’re a phenomenal team, and we are, too,” Freeman said. “We feel like we’re evenly-matched with everybody we play, if not better. They came out strong, and we had to come out even stronger. We had some weak points in the game, but in the end we pulled it out.”
While Bigsby and Freeman were piling up the yardage, it was the offensive line that helped make it possible.
Keiondre Jones, Braelin Mitchell, Keshawn Cameron, Adrian Porter and Tate Johnson were the starters, and Austin Thomas played a lot.
“I was really proud of our offensive line,” Wiggins said. “I thought as the game wore on, that they really leaned on and weighed on Opelika’s defensive front. And our backs ran hard.”
After a scoreless opening quarter, Opelika struck first, with Cade Blackmon finding Jamius Mitchell for a 7-yard touchdown pass, and the extra point made it a 7-0 game with 5:01 left in the first half.
The Cavaliers answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive to pull even.
The possession began with a holding penalty that knocked the Cavaliers back to their own 9-yard line, but Charlie Dixon got things started with a 13-yard run.
Freeman then hooked up with Bigsby for a 26-yard completion, and the Cavaliers were moving.
Freeman put the ball in Opelika territory with a 19-yard run, and he found Nathan Sapp over the middle for an 11-yard completion on fourth down.
On the next play, Freeman kept the ball, and he beat the defense for a 17-yard touchdown run.
Hunter Williamson’s extra point tied it at 7-7 with 1:27 left in the half.
Opelika ran a few plays and time ran out, and the teams headed to the locker room in a 7-7 game.
The Bulldogs had the ball first to start the third quarter hoping to reclaim the lead, but they lost a fumble at their own 40-yard line.
Bigsby went to work.
The junior had runs of 18 and 11 yards to put the ball on the 2-yard line, and he powered his way into the end zone on the next play, and Callaway led 14-7 early in the second half.
It looked like the Cavaliers were about to expand their lead when Bigsby took off on a long run, but Jaylen Stinson chased him down and knocked the ball loose.
The Bulldogs recovered the fumble, and they marched down the field for the tying score, with Eric Watts scoring from 14 yards out with 6:35 left in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers weren’t fazed.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, Bigsby’s 20-yard run put the ball near midfield.
Bigsby followed that up with a 24-yard run, and he capped the drive with a 20-touchdown run.
Williamson’s extra point gave Callaway a 21-14 lead with 2:42 to play in the third quarter.
Callaway was still up by seven when Tely Fanning made a terrific open-field tackle to force a punt.
The Cavaliers took over at their own 35-yard line with 7:33 to play, and it took them less than two minutes to cover 65 yards and pad their lead.
Freeman got the Cavaliers down the field with runs of 16 and 30 yards, and Bigsby capped the drive with a 26-yard touchdown run.
Williamson’s extra-point attempt was true, and Callaway led 28-14 with 5:40 to play.
Opelika, in desperate need of a touchdown, quickly moved the ball deep into Callaway territory.
Blackmon lofted a pass toward the right side of the field, and Morman snatched the ball away from the intended receiver and sprinted 95 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
“He caught it, but I just ripped the ball out of his hands, and I just took it home for a touchdown,” Morman said.
Opelika’s Brantan Barnett capped the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run with 2:53 to play.
The Cavaliers picked up a couple of first down and ran out the clock.
“I thought Jacob, Tank, and Charlie, they played extremely well tonight. Jacob did a great job leading,” Wiggins said. “And our defense played lights out. We played a great offensive team tonight, and our defense ran to the ball. Our linebackers played really well. Their quarterback’s an excellent player, and I thought our kids did what we had to do to put ourselves in good situations to win that ballgame.”
Callaway will face LaGrange on Aug. 31 at Callaway Stadium.
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