Heart-breaking ending for Cavaliers
Published 3:05 am Saturday, December 1, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
ROCKMART – They had a chance.
In a thrilling, back-and-forth game played on a muddy track at Rockmart, the Callaway Cavaliers had the ball late with an opportunity to score the winning touchdown and earn a trip to Atlanta for the Class AA state-championship game.
Callaway made it to the Rockmart 15-yard line, trailing by six points, perhaps moments away from earning the dramatic road win.
Instead, it was Rockmart’s Logan Burge coming up with the game-clinching interception, sending Rockmart to the 28-22 victory.
Rockmart will play Heard County for the Class AA state title, while Callaway’s season ended with a loss in the semifinals for the third time in six years.
It was the final game for a group of seniors who were a part of a lot of special moments over the years.
The Cavaliers won 49 games over the past four years, making this the winningest senior class in school history.
During those four years, Callaway won two region titles, nine playoff games while making two trips to the semifinals.
“I’m proud of our seniors, the leadership that they displayed all year, the character that they’ve had through hard times, through good times, right up until the last play,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins. “And I can’t say enough about ‘em. I love these boys, they give everything they’ve got to our program, to our school, to each other. They left it on the field tonight. I’m proud of our football team, our coaches, our community.”
The Cavaliers had two chances late in the game to take the lead with a touchdown.
With 6:39 to play, a Rockmart player was tackled in the end zone for a safety, and Callaway was within six.
Following the free kick, the Cavaliers quickly marched down the field, with Jacob Freeman making a Randy Moss-esque catch from running back Qua Hines at the 8-yard line for a 23-yard completion.
Moments later, the Cavaliers thought they’d taken the lead on a 4-yard run by Demetrius Coleman, but the play was wiped out by a penalty.
Two plays later, the Cavaliers were stopped on fourth down, and the Yellow Jackets took over with a little more than two minutes remaining with an opportunity to run out the clock.
On third down, rather than play it safe and run the ball, Rockmart attempted a pass, and it was picked off by Callaway’s Jalin Shephard.
The Cavaliers had the ball at the Yellow Jackets’ 31-yard line with 1:11 to play, plenty of time to march to the end zone and win the game.
A 16-yard completion from Coleman to Nathan Sapp put the ball on the 15-yard line, but on the next play, Burge ended the suspense with his interception.
Rockmart ran one kneel-down play, and the clock ran out, putting a heart-breaking ending to a special season for Callaway.
“Even in a loss, these guys are a bunch of winners,” Wiggins said. “These guys had a work ethic throughout the season that was great.”
The Cavaliers took the early lead in Friday’s game.
After recovering a fumble inside the Rockmart 10-yard line, Hunter Williamson made a 26-yard field goal, giving Callaway a 3-0 lead with 6:46 left in the opening quarter.
The Yellow Jackets answered, with Markus Smith scoring on a 4-yard run, and the extra point put the Cavaliers in a 7-3 hole with 1:33 remaining in the first quarter.
It took the Cavaliers one play to reclaim the lead.
On a first-down play from the 31-yard line, Coleman dropped back and delivered a strike over the middle into the hands of Jacob Freeman, who outraced the Rockmart defense for a 69-yard touchdown.
Williamson converted the extra point, and Callaway led 10-7, with 1:28 to play in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers had an opportunity to pad their lead early in the second quarter, but they lost a fumble, and the Yellow Jackets recovered at their own 29-yard line.
Two possessions later, the Yellow Jackets went back on top, with Smith hitting Javin Whatley for a 6-yard touchdown pass, and the Cavaliers trailed 14-10 with 2:19 left in the half.
Callaway made it to the Rockmart 34-yard line before a fourth-down play field, and it was a 14-10 game as the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms for the halftime break.
In the third quarter, it was Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby’s turn to show what he could do.
Bigsby, who went over 2,000 yards for the season in a quarterfinal win over Washington County, took a handoff from Coleman and raced 64 yards for the touchdown.
Williamson’s extra-point attempt was true, and Callaway led 17-14, less than 90 seconds into the third quarter.
Back came Rockmart, which drove for a touchdown to reclaim the lead, with Dylan Bailey finding tight end Reed Couch for a 27-yard touchdown.
With 8:41 left in the third quarter, Rockmart led 21-17.
The Cavaliers fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but the defense stood firm and forced a punt.
Bailey’s punt forced the Cavaliers to start at their own 1-yard line, but on first down, Qua Hines busted up the middle for a 69-yard run.
The Cavaliers had a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty, and Williamson made a 30-yard field goal to cut the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 21-20 with 2:24 remaining in the third quarter.
Rockmart responded with a 70-yard scoring drive, with Javin Whatley’s 8-yard touchdown run and the extra point making it a 28-20 game early in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers’ ensuing possession ended with an interception, and the Jackets took over at their own 4-yard line with 6:39 to play.
After the first-down play lost three yards, Callaway made the play in the end zone for the safety, and it was a six-point game with nearly six minutes left to play, setting up the suspenseful final moments.
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