Special season for Cavaliers, Tigers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It is the reality of sports.
At the end of a season, when the equipment has been stowed away, when the final chapter has been written, the only teams that are 100 percent satisfied with what they accomplished are the ones that hoisted the championship trophy.
In Georgia, that means there’ll be eight football teams spanning seven classifications that can look back on the season and know they met the primary goal they set out to achieve.
For the hundreds of others, no matter how successful a season it was, there is the realization that the ultimate goal was not achieved.
For most teams, winning a championship is not realistic, yet that doesn’t keep the players and coaches for every team from making that the objective.
For other teams, winning the ring, being the last man standing, is a 100 percent achievable goal.
Among the teams that felt they had to a chance to win the big prize were the Callaway Cavaliers and Troup Tigers, and they were close.
Both teams made it to the state semifinals, only to see their title hopes come to a halt last week against unbeaten teams on their home field.
Troup was within 10 points in the fourth quarter against defending Class AAAA state-champion Blessed Trinity, only to lose 51-35.
For Callaway, its loss to Rockmart was particularly painful.
The Cavaliers had the ball at the end with a chance to win the game and make it to Atlanta for the Class AA championship game.
The Cavaliers were 16 yards away from the end zone when their fate was sealed by a turnover, and the Yellow Jackets held on for the 28-22 win.
It was a sobering moment, watching the players and coaches as the realization hit that the season was over, that there would be no championship this year.
While Troup’s loss wasn’t quite as agonizing, there was still that moment during the fourth quarter when reality hit, that in a matter of minutes the season was going to end.
When both games ended, there was nothing the coaches could say to console the players, to help ease the pain they were feeling.
When the hurt eases a bit, which comes with the passage of time, everyone associated with the Callaway and Troup football teams will hopefully look back on what they accomplished with unwavering pride.
Let’s start with Callaway.
First, don’t just look at what the Cavaliers accomplished this season, which is considerable.
Over the past four years, Callaway went 45-8, reached the state semifinals twice and the quarterfinals once.
Since 2008, Callaway has been to the semifinals three times and the quarterfinals on two other occasions while reaching double digits in wins eight times.
The architect of that success is head coach Pete Wiggins, and what a phenomenal job he has done since taking over the program in 2005.
The Cavaliers, as has been the case so often over the years with Wiggins at the helm, were in a position to win it all.
After winning three playoff games, Callaway stood toe-to-toe with unbeaten Rockmart in a classic semifinal showdown between two powerhouses.
When Jalin Shepherd came through with an interception with a little more than a minute remaining, the Cavaliers had a chance.
Being on the sidelines, it honestly felt like it was going to happen, like this was Callaway’s moment. The Cavaliers came so close, only to see their hopes dashed with an interception.
Rockmart ran one kneel-down play after that pick, and while one group of players and coaches ran around the field joyously celebrating, many of those in the Callaway camp collapsed on the field as they tried to process what just happened.
Wiggins, who so badly wanted to see his players make it to Atlanta for the championship game, said “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.”
The Cavaliers did indeed give it everything they’ve got, and while some nights that’s enough, other times it isn’t.
So it’ll be Rockmart, not Callaway, facing Heard County in next week’s championship game in Atlanta.
The Cavaliers finished with an 11-3 record, and they joined the 2013 and 2016 teams in making it to the semifinals.
Callaway will soon turn its attention to the 2019 season, and while replacing 26 seniors will be a challenging task, there is no reason to think the team won’t be in this same position next year.
It helps to have running back Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby, quarterback Demetrius Coleman and wide receiver Jacob Freeman returning.
Those three are electrifying players, and even with a rebuilt offensive line next season, the Cavaliers shouldn’t have any trouble scoring points.
Most of the defense will have to be replaced, but defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard has a track record of putting quality and oftentimes dominant defenses on the field.
The Cavaliers have come so close to knocking down the door, and maybe next year is when it happens.
For Troup, what a memorable season it was.
Under fourth-year head coach Tanner Glisson, all the Tigers did was go 12-2, setting a school record for wins in a season, while making it to the semifinals for the second time in the history of the program.
After going 1-9 in 2015, Troup put together the best three-year stretch the football program has ever enjoyed while winning playoff games in back-to-back seasons for the first time.
The Tigers didn’t just win games this season, they did it with style, with quarterback Kobe Hudson leading an offense that could beat defenses in so many ways.
Right up until the end, against a Blessed Trinity team trying to win consecutive state titles, Troup kept punching, scoring five touchdowns against a tremendous defense.
Troup’s two losses, by the way, were to Cartersville and Blessed Trinity, who have a combined record of 28-0 and will play for the state title next week.
When Glisson came to Troup, his goal was to get the program to the point where it could compete with the big dogs in the state, and that has happened.
The Tigers aren’t going anywhere. There will be some holes to fill next season, with linebacker King Mwikuta and wide receiver Jamari Thrash among the men who’ll have to be replaced.
Look who’s coming back, though.
You start with Kobe Hudson, who you can make a valid argument is the player of the year in Class AAAA.
His numbers are staggering, and beyond the stats, he has developed into the kind of leader who you want playing the most important position on the field.
Also returning are offensive play-makers Ja’Rell Smith, Mark-Anthony Dixon and Trey Williams, who helped the Tigers chew up opposing defenses this season.
The 2019 season promises to be another fruitful one for the Tigers, and who knows, maybe they’ll be celebrating when that final snap is taken.
Elsewhere in the country, the LaGrange Grangers are looking to regain their position as a state powerhouse.
It’s been a challenging few years, but while the 2-8 record didn’t indicate it this season, things are on the upswing under head coach Chuck Gibbs.
The record wasn’t what they were hoping for, but the Grangers were competitive in nearly every one of their games, and they finished the season with an inspiring comeback win over the Shaw Raiders.
I know coach Gibbs is looking forward to having a full offseason to work with the players, and with a host of talented players returning, things are looking up for the Grangers.
The 2019 season will be here before you know it, and I can’t wait.