Special-teams play helps lift Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was a game-changing moment.
Late in the third quarter, Qua Hines had a touchdown run to give Callaway a 20-14 lead over Washington County in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs.
The Cavaliers had some coverage issues on earlier kickoffs, with the Golden Hawks able to begin possessions with advantageous field position.
With that in mind, Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard told head coach Pete Wiggins that a surprise onside kick would be the way to go.
Wiggins agreed, and the Cavaliers recovered the onside kick to get the ball back, and another Hines scoring run and a two-point conversion made it a 28-14 game.
Callaway went on to capture a 35-20 victory to advance to the Class AA semifinals for the third time in six years.
In a game with so many big plays, it was the onside kick that helped Callaway take control and secure the win.
“I just told coach (Wiggins), I think we can get an onside right here,” Hubbard said. “He said if you think so, go do it, and we just executed it, just like we practice it.”
Senior Hunter Williamson delivered a text-book onside kick that bounced off one of Washington County’s players, and Callaway recovered the ball near midfield.
“We got a good kick, and Tely (Fanning) hit him just about the time the ball got there, and Sidderian Shealey got on it,” Hubbard said. “That was kind of the game-changer right there.”
Hubbard said the play was an example of how working on something consistently in practice can pay off in a game.
“(Williamson) works on it constantly,” Hubbard said. “That’s one of his daily routines. He works kickoffs, and he’ll go field goals, punts, and he’ll work on whatever trick kick we’re working that week. So I knew he would be prepared for it. It was just a matter of when we’d be able to pull it out. It ended up working out well.”
The play also showed the value of having coaches who have worked alongside each other for so long.
When Hubbard mentioned a possible onside kick, Wiggins didn’t hesitate to give his approval.
“He looked at me for a second and said, are you sure,” Hubbard said. “I said I think it’s the right play, and he said go do it.”
The way the Golden Hawks had been returning kickoffs, Hubbard didn’t figure it was that much of a risk anyway.
“They’d already returned two kickoffs to the 40, and basically we’re giving up 10 yards if we don’t get it,” Hubbard said. “It ended up working out. That was a big play for us.”
BIG-PLAY SENIOR: In the opening round of the state playoffs, it was Qua Hines’ 75-yard scoring run that helped propel Callaway to a 27-14 victory over Elbert County.
In round two against defending state-champion Hapeville Charter, Hines didn’t have any touchdowns, but he ran for 177 yards on 14 attempts in a 31-13 victory.
In last week’s quarterfinal showdown against Washington County, Hines came up big once again to lead his team to a 35-20 win.
Hines ran for 102 yards on just seven attempts, and he had three critical touchdowns, including two in a four-minute span in the second half that helped turn the game in Callaway’s favor.
In the third quarter, the game was tied 14-14 when Hines ripped off a 51-yard scoring run to give Callaway the lead.
Following a successful onside kick, Hines had a 2-yard touchdown run to give Callaway a 28-14 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Hines put an exclamation mark on the victory with a memorable touchdown run.
A bunch of Washington County players got their hands on Hines, but none of them could bring him down. The 40-yard touchdown run and the ensuing extra point gave Callaway a 35-20 lead, and that was the final score.
“They were trying to strip it and pull it out, but I wasn’t going down,” Hines said matter-of-factly.
In three playoff games, Hines has 376 yards on 27 attempts, an average of 14 yards per carry.
Junior Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby gets the bulk of the carries, and he continues to have his way with opposing defenses.
Bigsby had 91 hard-earned yards on 20 attempts against Washington County, and he has 643 yards with seven touchdowns in three playoff games.
Bigsby punished Elbert County’s defense for 314 yards and three touchdowns, and he kept it going against a stout Hapeville Charter defense with 238 yards on 26 attempts with four touchdowns.
Combined, Bigsby and Hines have 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns in three games.
AERIAL ATTACK: Sophomore quarterback Demetrius Coleman, after throwing for a combined 120 yards in the first two playoff games, completed 8-of-14 pass attempts for 154 yards against Washington County.
Coleman’s favorite target was junior Jacob Freeman, who was the starting quarterback for the first nine games of the season.
Freeman had three catches for 78 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the first half.
Freeman had another 80-yard touchdown catch called back because of a penalty.
Freeman was covered, but he went up and snatched the ball away from the defender at the 35-yard line, and he raced the rest of the way for the 80-yard touchdown, although the score didn’t stand.
Markus Morman had a 15-yard scoring catch in the first quarter, and Antinez Blount had one catch for 15 yards.
SETTLING DOWN: In the first half, Callaway’s defense had a difficult time adjusting to Washington County’s offensive attack.
Washington County lined two players up in the backfield, and Callaway never knew which one of them was going to get the ball.
“You don’t know which guy is going to get the snap,” Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said. “It’s really tough to defend. It’s something you don’t see every week. We’re so used to defending spread offenses, but that’s back to the old-school stuff.”
The Golden Hawks scored a pair of touchdowns in the first two quarters, and the game was tied 14-14 in the half.
Callaway’s defense found its footing in the second half, limiting Washington County to one touchdown that came late in the fourth quarter.
“Early on, it gave us some fits, and we settled in and were able to figure it out a little bit,” Hubbard said. “I felt like had a better grasp on it after halftime. We played a lot better.”
One of the players who helped Callaway slow down Washington County was senior linebacker Tely Fanning, who had 13 tackles, including two for loss.
“I thought that Tely Fanning had a big night,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “Tely, for an inside linebacker he’s light. He’s probably 170 pounds with his pads on, and playing that inside linebacker position, he did a great job of running to the ball.
“He took some big shots from their backs, and several of their offensive linemen, but it didn’t faze him, and he’d get up and continue running to the ball.”
Wiggins also felt defensive lineman Tyrique Andrews made a big impact, even when he wasn’t making plays.
“He demands a lot of double teams and his effort of getting to the ball is really special,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said defensive end Curmondre Bray “played really fast” and “was in on a lot of tackles,” and senior linebacker D Bonner had an interception in the first quarter that thwarted a potential Washington County scoring drive.
“He didn’t light it up in the stats column,” Hubbard said of Bonner. “He just played really well. He played solid football.”
Sophomore Charlie Dixon also did a standout job filling in at linebacker for the injured R.J. Williams, who left the game in the first half.