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Cavaliers enjoy holiday tradition

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

They’re always happy to be working on Thanksgiving.

If a football team is still practicing on turkey day, it means it has been a successful season.

Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they’ve had plenty of Thanksgiving practices over the years, and this season is no exception.

Callaway, which beat Hapeville Charter 31-13 last week, will host Washington County today in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs.

The team practiced on Thursday morning, and then all of the players and coaches got together for a Thanksgiving meal in the school’s cafeteria.

“The Thanksgiving meal that we have each time that we play is just another part of what we do. It’s very special to us,” said Pete Wiggins, who has been Callaway’s head coach since 2015. “There’s a lot of great individuals involved with making it happen. We’ve been doing it a long time, and it’s very special to our team.”

Since 2009, the Cavaliers have advanced to the quarterfinals five times, and they made it to the quarterfinals in 2013 and 2016.

If Callaway wins today, it will play either Rockmart or Jefferson County in the semifinals.

“We always have high expectations, and getting to practice on Thanksgiving is a common occurrence for us,” Wiggins said. “That comes with a lot of work, and a lot of commitment from our kids and our coaches. It’s always a special week for us.”

Callaway’s opponent is a team also accustomed to winning in the playoffs.

Washington County has won three state championships over the years, and it has enjoyed tremendous success under head coach Joel Ingram, who is 113-43-1 since 2006.

It’s been more of the same this season for Washington County (10-2), which has won two close playoff games to reach the quarterfinals. After beating Vidalia 31-25 in the first round, Washington County knocked off Brooks County 34-30 in the second round.

“They play really hard,” Wiggins said. “I think they’re well-coached. Coach Ingram has been there a long time. They’ve got a lot of really good players and a lot of tradition. They’re there for a reason. They expect to be where they are, and it’s going to be a tough opponent for us.”

Twice with Ingram at the helm Washington County has beaten Callaway in the second round of the state playoffs.

Washington County beat Callaway 28-0 in 2012, and it won 31-7 in 2014 on the way to the state-championship game.

This year’s team finished third in Region 3-AA, and it has knocked off two higher-seeded teams to advance.

Ingram said a key to this team’s success has been the willingness of every player to buy into the team-first philosophy.

“There’s not been any, ‘What about my stats? What about my touches?, ” Ingram said before the win over Brooks County. “Everybody is trying to pull their own weight and do their own job and work for the benefit of everybody around them.”

Dyquan Bloodsaw, who has run for close to 1,800 yards, is one of Washington County’s top players, while linebacker Preston Daniels has had a big season as well.

Callaway is coming off a phenomenal performance against Hapeville Charter.

Hapeville Charter, which won last year’s Class AA state championship, was run off the field by Callaway.

Offensively, Callaway’s Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby and Qua Hines combined for more than 400 rushing yards.

Bigsby led the way with 238 yards on 26 attempts with four touchdowns, and Hines ran for 177 yards on 17 attempts.

In two playoff games, Bigsby has run for more than 500 yards with seven touchdowns.

Sophomore quarterback Demetrius Coleman, making his third consecutive start, completed 5-of-6 passes for 80 yards.

Callaway’s defense delivered a powerful performance as well, holding Hapeville Charter’s offense scoreless until the third quarter.

“I think it’s all about our preparation,” Wiggins said. “Our guys were focused throughout the week. With the rain we were inside every day, and their preparation was great, and it paid off. The want to of our football team right now is high, so the guys are focused at practice, and at film, and they’re putting in a lot of time and effort right now, and it’s showing up on the field.”

This is Callaway’s third consecutive appearance in the state quarterfinals, and Wiggins said there are no short cuts.

The Cavaliers begin their offseason strength-and-conditioning program in January, and the work continues through the season.

That effort paid massive dividends last week as the Cavaliers went on the road and overwhelmed the defending state champions.

“Our team has put in a lot of work to get to this point,” Wiggins said. “They’ve put in the time in the weight room, and at practice. I think we’ve established a physicality that we depend on in each game at this point, and that physicality is on both offense and defense. I think that our defensive line and our offensive line have gotten better each week and are playing more physical than they did early on. Our fullbacks and linebackers are doing the same. Both groups of kids are really playing at a high level right now, and I think that it’s paying off.”

CALLAWAY VS. 

WASHINGTON COUNTY

WHEN: Today, 7:30 p.m.

WHAT: Quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs

WHERE: Callaway Stadium