Defenses standing tall
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s back-to-back shutouts.
The Callaway Cavaliers opened the season with a 35-21 victory over the Opelika Bulldogs.
While that wasn’t a shutout, the defense made some critical stops in the second half that allowed Callaway to pull away and eventually build a 21-point lead.
For the past two weeks, Callaway’s defense hasn’t given up much of anything.
In week two, LaGrange had 200 yards of offense against Callaway but it came up empty on the scoreboard in a 14-0 loss.
The biggest defensive play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter when junior Markus Morman made an interception in the end zone to keep the Grangers in a 14-0 hole.
Last week against an overmatched Cross Keys team, Callaway’s defense delivered a suffocating performance in a 50-0 victory.
Senior linebacker Tely Fanning had six tackles, including two for loss, and he also picked off a pass.
Jalin Shephard had an interception return for a touchdown, and defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said defensive lineman Tre Heard had his most effective game of the season after having a cast removed.
“It was his first game without a big cast on his hand,” Hubbard said. “He looked a lot better without it.”
Most of the starters played sparingly against Cross Keys, so they’ll be rested and ready to go on Friday against the rival Troup Tigers.
It will be the biggest challenge to date for a Callaway defense that has a lot of new starters this season.
Troup, which is averaging more than 40 points per game, can beat a defense in every way imaginable.
Leading the Troup offense is junior quarterback Kobe Hudson, who has thrown for 894 yards with nine touchdowns, and run for 184 yards with four touchdowns.
Hudson is surrounded by play-makers, including senior wide receiver Jamari Thrash, who has 10 catches for 317 yards with three touchdowns.
Trea Mitchell and Mark-Anthony Dixon have two scoring catches apiece, and Ja’Rell Smith, Joko Willis, Tyree Carlisle and Luke Purnell each has one touchdown catch.
Running backs Trey Williams and Tyree Carlisle have combined for 336 yards and six touchdowns.
“They’ve got play-makers everywhere,” Hubbard said. “But what’s so scary about them is, you can do everything right on defense, and they still make a play. You see it happen all the time. Everybody’s in their gaps, and Kobe makes a guy miss, and makes a long run. Or you see a guy with great coverage, and they just go up and catch it. And that’s what scares you. From a schematic standpoint, you can do everything right, and they still make plays on you. We’ve got to try to limit that.”
One of the players who’ll try to slow down the Tigers is senior Tely Fanning.
Fanning, who overcame ACL injuries as an eighth-grader and a freshman, is a veteran voice on an inexperienced defense, and he’s playing well.
Fanning had 10 tackles against Opelika, and 12 tackles against LaGrange.
“Tely’s one of those guys that’s been around, and he understands our defense, and he knows where he’s supposed to be on every play,” Hubbard said. “He understands what we’re trying to get done. He knows where he’s supposed to be, and that’s a big benefit.”
Another veteran is linebacker RJ Williams, who had 11tackles with a fumble recovery in the season-opening win over Opelika.
Williams said a key to the defense’s success is having all 11 players doing their job.
“That’s what we focus on at practice,” Williams said. “All week we focus on coming together as a team, and team tackling. You can’t win with one vs. 11. That’s what we focus on at practice is team tackling.”
Senior defensive lineman Destin Patrick is another Callaway player who has been through the Friday-night battles before, and he had a fumble recovery against Opelika, and a sack against LaGrange.
A number of other players are first-time starters, and Hubbard said there has been a “learning curve.”
“It’s been day to day,” Hubbard said. “There’s days where we look really good, and then there’s days where you’re like, we’ve got to get a lot better.
“One thing I will say about this group is they’re really fast. We’re really fast across the board. We run really well all the way around, and that makes up for a lot of things that we don’t do right. I feel like we play really hard, too.”
DOING THE JOB: In the days leading up to last week’s game, Troup head coach Tanner Glisson was curious to see how his team would deal with Harris County’s outstanding running back, Cal’Von Harris.
Even though his team dropped its first three games, Harris put up respectable numbers, and that included a 120-yard effort in the season opener against Carver.
Harris ran for more than 1,600 yards last season with 16 touchdowns, and he averaged better than six yards per carry.
It didn’t help that the Tigers went into the game without some of their top defensive players, including defensive lineman Andy Boykin and linebacker King Mwikuta, who were both held out with injuries.
Despite that, Cal’Von Harris was limited to 42 yards on 12 carries in the 53-6 loss, and that was his second-lowest rushing total of the past two years.
Sophomore Braxton Bray led Harris County with 83 yards on 15 carries, although he did a lot of that damage in the second half long after the outcome had been determined.
Three of Troup’s outstanding linebackers reached double digits in the blowout win over Harris County.
Kevin Martin, Troup’s leading tackler the past two seasons, had 10 tackles against Harris County, including eight solo stops.
Corey Cato had seven solo tackles and three assists, and Jabraylin Gooden had six solo tackles and four assists.
Among the defensive linemen, Monta Hall led the way with six tackles, including five solo stops.
Antayus Herndon had five tackles, Jeremiah Holston had four tackles, and Jordan Adams had three tackles.
Nick Ligon, Troup’s senior safety, had eight tackles to lead the defensive backs.
Troup faces another stout challenge this week.
Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby opened the season with a 249-yard effort against Opelika before running for 108 yards against LaGrange.
Bigsby didn’t play last week in a 50-0 win over Cross Keys.
Also sitting out the Cross Keys game was talented junior quarterback Jacob Freeman, who can make plays running or passing.
Glisson said it’ll be a tremendous challenge for his veteran and talented defense, which has given up 20 points in three games, and 14 of those points came in the second half of the Columbus game when the starters were on the sideline.
“I think the big deal is that Callaway’s got everything that you want (offensively),” Glisson said. “They’ve got a huge offensive line that can run the ball, and pass protect. They have a five-star running back. They’ve got a four-star athlete at quarterback. So there’s nothing that they do not have offensively. Athletically, they’re as good as we’re going to see.”
Glisson believes that Callaway’s offensive line, which includes senior Keiondre Jones who has committed to Auburn, sets the offense apart from some others.
Adrian Porter, Keshawn Cameron, Tate Johnson, Braelin Mitchell and Austin Thomas are other standout offensive linemen for the Cavaliers.
“There are a lot of similarities in the two quarterbacks and the two running backs (from Callaway and Harris County),” Glisson said. “Where the big difference is, Harris County’s offensive line compared to Callaway’s offensive line. Anytime you’ve got a big offensive line, it makes everybody else’s job a little bit easier.”
Glisson added that “it’ll be the biggest, most physical offensive line that we’ll see. It’ll be interesting to watch how it’s played up front.”
STANDING TALL: The LaGrange Grangers were able to celebrate a victory for the first time since the fifth game of the 2016 season, and a suffocating defense was a big reason why.
LaGrange beat Hampton 8-6 last week to end a 17-game losing streak.
As was the case in the first two games against Heard County and Callaway, LaGrange’s defense was outstanding.
The defense kept making plays throughout the game, right up until the final moments when the victory was secured.
Hampton had the ball the ball with more than a minute left to play, and it had a chance to win the game with a field goal or a touchdown.
LaGrange’s defense was up to the challenge.
On third down, sophomore Jacquez Smith came through with a sack to force fourth-and-long.
On the fourth-down play, outstanding junior linebacker Qua Bowles picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, although a flag negated the score.
The Grangers ran a kneel-down play and the clock ran out, giving them a hard-earned and long-awaited victory.
LaGrange’s ability to get to quarterback Jaivion Dorris was critical.
LaGrand had 10 sacks, including three by Jarno Huzzie, and two apiece by Darwin Gomez and Thaddeus Dixon.
Bowles, Smith and Andraka Martin had one apiece.
LaGrange also had 23 quarterback hurries, with Smith and Huzzie leading the way with five and four respectively.
Bowles, part of a terrific linebacker corps, led LaGrange with 15 tackles, including six solo stops.
Senior linebacker Dexter Fitzpatrick had 14 tackles, including two for loss, and he has 57 tackles in three games.
Martin, a junior linebacker, had nine tackles, and Huzzie and Jakoby Smith had six.
Smith made one of the game’s biggest defensive plays.
Hampton was driving deep in LaGrange territory at the end of the first half when Smith picked off a pass in the end zone, and he nearly scored before he was tackled just short of the goal line.