Great night at the stadium
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
There’s never a bad night at Callaway Stadium.
It can be a late-season game between two winless teams, and I’m all in and ready to roll.
All games are not equal, though.
Some games have that extra edge, that added juice that really brings the stadium to life.
I remember the first game I covered at the stadium in 2003 when LaGrange and Troup played before thousands of eager fans.
There have been plenty of games like that over the years, often involving a showdown between local teams.
Last week’s game between Callaway and Troup had that spark.
You could feel it as soon as you walked through the gates and saw that nearly every seat was filled.
That the game involved two local rivals was enough to mark it as a special occasion.
To throw some added spice into the mix, though, it was a game featuring two unbeaten and ranked teams with realistic expectations of making a state-championship run.
It was also the first time the teams had played in the regular season since 2015.
Put it all together, and it was no surprise that this game had such fevered anticipation.
“It was very fun,” said Kobe Hudson, Troup’s dynamic junior quarterback. “I knew it was going to be a big atmosphere. Our crowd is always there.”
So, did the game live up to the hype?
To me, it absolutely did.
The men you wanted to see make plays did, from Hudson and his sensational group of wide receivers, to Callaway’s outstanding running backs, Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby and Qua Hines.
In the end, it was Troup pulling away late for the 37-20 victory.
Troup surged to a 14-0 lead, but Callaway rallied and tied it at 14-14 early in the second half.
From there, Troup scored 16 points to go up 30-14, but Callaway got within 10 on a Bigsby touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
Troup, showing that it’s not just a big-play offense, put together a touchdown drive that featured 10 straight running plays to put the game away.
It was such an impressive performance by the Tigers, who showed how explosive they can be on the first play from scrimmage when Hudson hooked up with Jamari Thrash for a 63-yard touchdown.
When asked if he thought that could be scoring play, Hudson said with a grin, “we ran it for a reason.”
In the second quarter, Hudson threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Thrash, and Troup led 14-0.
The Cavaliers weren’t going away, though.
Late in the first half, Callaway got some good fortune to score its first touchdown.
Jacob Freeman threw the ball into the end zone, and it was deflected by Thrash, who was playing defensive back.
The ball landed in the arms of Nathan Sapp for a 35-yard touchdown, and Troup’s lead was down to 14-7.
Callaway kept the momentum at the start of the second half, going 60 yards in six plays for the tying touchdown.
Hines did some terrific work on that drive, and his 18-yard touchdown run and Hunter Williamson’s extra point made it a 14-14 game.
The game was on.
How would the Tigers respond?
This was, after all, the first time all season they’d been pushed in the second half.
The Tigers responded like champs.
Troup took the lead on a special-teams mistake by Callaway, with a bad snap on a punt attempt resulting in a safety midway through the third quarter.
Three plays later, Troup’s lead was nine points.
Ja’Rell Smith, part of that electrifying group of wide receivers, got behind Callaway’s defense for a 73-yard catch from Hudson.
Two plays later, it was Mark-Anthony Dixon with the 7-yard touchdown catch from Hudson, and Troup led 23-14 following the Helsyn Martinez extra point.
Troup kept the accelerator down, and when Hudson hit Dixon for a 26-yard touchdown, the lead was 30-14 in the fourth quarter.
Bigsby’s 30-yard touchdown run cut Troup’s lead to 10 points with 6:10 to play, and the outcome was far from certain.
Troup’s offense responded by draining nearly every bit of the clock on a 68-yard touchdown drive, and it was all on the ground.
Hudson capped the drive with a 3-yard scoring run.
That drive was noteworthy because it showed that Troup has the ability to milk the clock, to dominate with the run, as well as the pass.
What did we learn from the game?
I viewed Troup as a state-championship contender before kickoff, and what I saw on the turf of Callaway Stadium only emboldened that view.
This is a team that has every ingredient necessary to be one of the last teams standing, from a veteran, talented defense, to an offense that can beat you in about 1,000 ways, to a coaching staff that led by head coach Tanner Glisson that puts the players in the best position to succeed.
That offense, by the way, was spectacular.
Kobe Hudson, and I’m running out of adjectives to describe him, completed 14-of-22 passes for 338 yards with four touchdowns.
Hudson also ran for 63 yards on 10 attempts with a touchdown.
Joko Willis, who before this season was strictly a defensive player, showed how comfortable he is on offense with a team-leading six catches for 94 yards.
Thrash had three receptions for 91 yards with two touchdowns, Dixon had three catches for 68 yards with two touchdowns, and Smith had two catches for 85 yards.
Troup did it on the ground as well, with Trey Williams running for 81 yards on 15 attempts.
As for Callaway, while it was a disappointing night, nothing has changed from my perspective.
If you’d asked me before the season if the Cavaliers could compete for a state title, I would have given you an unequivocal yes.
Despite last week’s loss, my answer to that question would be the same.
The Cavaliers are blessed with a wealth of riches on offense, from Bigsby and Hines, to quarterbacks Jacob Freeman and Demetrius Coleman, to a talented group of wide receivers, to an offensive line that could be the best in the state.
Callaway’s defense, which was hit hard by graduation following the 2017 season, will continue to improve and facing an offense the caliber of Troup’s will only help those players.
Callaway, and this is a telling statistic, has only lost back-to-back regular-season games once since the start of the 2012 season, and that came in 2015 when it fell to Harris County and Troup.
That’s a testament to the winning culture that has been established by head coach Pete Wiggins and his coaches.
The Cavaliers expect to win, but on the rare occasion when it doesn’t happen, they turn the page and get better.
As thrilling as last week was, it was just one game, and the outcome had no impact on the long-term goals of either team, but it sure was fun.