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Callaway knocks off the champs

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

ATLANTA – The champs never had a chance.

The Callaway Cavaliers, delivering an overpowering, dominant performance in all aspects of the game, overwhelmed Hapeville Charter 31-13 on Friday night in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs.

Callaway will host Washington County on Friday with a spot in the semifinals on the line.

Hapeville Charter won the state championship a year ago, and it appeared poised to possible repeat this season, but it never had a chance against Callaway.

The Cavaliers drove 60 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession, with Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby capping the drive with a 3-yard scoring run, and they never looked back.

Hapeville Charter’s defense, which had been so suffocating throughout the season, couldn’t slow Callaway’s running game led by Bigsby and Qua Hines.

Bigsby, who ran for more than 300 yards in last week’s playoff opener against Elbert County, scored all four of Callaway’s touchdowns against Hapeville Charter.

Two of those touchdowns came in a short span in the third quarter as Callaway turned a 17-7 halftime lead into a 31-7 cushion.

Hapeville Charter’s offense, meanwhile, was unable to find any traction against a Callaway defense that owned the line of scrimmage.

One of Hapeville Charter’s touchdowns came on a punt return, and the other came late in the third quarter after Callaway had built a 31-7 lead.

“I think it’s all about our preparation through the week, both offensively and defensively,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “The kids were so focused this week. It might be the best week of practice we’ve had, and just the physicality that we established. Up front both on the offensive and defensive lines, it was really special.”

The last time Callaway went on the road for a playoff game, it was shut out by Brooks County in the quarterfinals of the 2017 state playoffs.

Callaway senior offensive lineman Keiondre Jones said that game served as motivation for the players, who didn’t want to experience a moment like that for a second straight year.

“We didn’t want to feel hurt again,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to feel that hurt again having to go home. We knew what we had to do in the offseason. We practiced hard every day.”

Jones added that “we played for four quarters. It was as simple as that.”

From a defensive standpoint, junior linebacker R.J. Williams said “the game plan was to go in and have a strong, physical mentality. Take it to them, hit them in the mouth all night long.”

Wiggins was proud of what the players on both sides of the ball did.

“Our offensive line opened up holes for both Qua and Tank all night, and they ran hard,” Wiggins said. “And defensively, we shut down a really talented offense. Those guys ran to the ball, and our linebackers were flying around. And then the back of the defense, we were playing some really talented receivers, and they did a heck of a job.”

Callaway took control early.

After Hapeville went three-and-out on its opening possession, Callaway went 60 yards in seven plays to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Bigsby had five carries for 56 yards on that drive, including a 3-yard scoring run.

Hunter Williamson made the first of his four extra points, and Callaway was up 7-0 with 6:52 left in the opening quarter.

The Hornets pulled even later in the quarter on a punt return for a touchdown by Malik Fleming, but the Cavaliers scored the game’s next 24 points to put it away.

Moments into the second quarter, Bigsby’s 16-yard scoring run and Williamson’s extra point pushed the lead to 14-7.

That’s the way it remained until, with a few seconds left in the first half, Williamson banged through a 33-yard field goal to give the Cavaliers a 17-7 lead.

The halftime break did nothing to slow the Cavaliers’ momentum.

On Callaway’s first play from scrimmage in the second half, Bigsby went right up the middle for an 85-yard touchdown run, and the lead was 24-7.

Moments later, Curmondre Bray forced a fumble that the Cavaliers recovered at the Hornets’ 24-yard line.

On the next play, Bigsby’s 24-yard scoring run and the extra point pushed the lead to 31-7 with 8:20 remaining in the third quarter.

Hapeville’s Jeremy Stephens scored on a 1-yard keeper with 3:47 left in the third quarter, and after a failed two-point attempt, Callaway led 31-13.

In the fourth quarter, the Hornets had the ball inside the Cavaliers’ 10-yard line, but they turned it over on down.

Callaway, with its powerful running on game on display, pounded out a few first downs to finish things off.

Now Callaway will try to take it a step further and return to the semifinals for the third time since 2013.