Game day for Cavaliers

Published 11:05 am Thursday, August 22, 2019


Daily News

The Callaway Cavaliers are hoping for a repeat performance.

A year ago, Callaway broke open a close game in the second half on the way to a 35-21 victory over Opelika at Callaway Stadium.

It was tied 14-14 when Callaway scored three consecutive touchdowns to put the game away.

Those same two teams are set to open their seasons against each other once again, and this time the game will be played at Opelika’s stadium, with kickoff set for 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“(Thursday night) will be a great opportunity to see where we’re at,” said Pete Wiggins, who is heading into his 15th season as Callaway’s head coach. “Opelika’s got a great football team. They’ve got a great tradition. They’ve won so many games over the years. They’re well-coached. They have great players. I think tomorrow night will be a huge test. We just have to go out and play fast, play physical, and have minimal mistakes, and play well on special teams.”

The Cavaliers did all of those things in last year’s game.

Offensively, Callaway got three touchdown runs from Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby, who finished the game with nearly 300 rushing yards.

That was the start of a special season for Bigsby, who ran for more than 2,000 yards.

Jacob Freeman added a touchdown run in last year’s game, and Markus Morman had an interception return for a score.

Both teams went to enjoy successful seasons that ended with heart-breaking losses.

Callaway went 11-3 and reached the semifinals of the Class AA state playoffs before losing to Rockmart.

Callaway had the ball at the end with an opportunity to win it with a touchdown, but Rockmart held on for a 28-22 victory.

Opelika, which plays in Class AAAAAA, finished with a 7-5 record and made it to the third round of the state playoffs.

Like Callaway, Opelika had the ball in the closing moments of its playoff game, but a failed fourth-down conversion sealed its fate in a 24-19 loss to Saraland.

Both teams have high expectations again this season, and one of them will get things started with a big win.

“This is what you work for, as far as all the reps in the weight room, and on the field, to get to a big stage like this will be,” Wiggins said. “So, it should be a lot of excitement on the field.”

Erik Speakman, Opelika’s second-year head coach, believes the way the 2018 season ended serves as motivation for his players.

“I think any team that ends that way, it just motivates your kids for the next year of coming back and trying to take that one step further for the next season,” Speakman said. “With a good team like we have, it’s going to be doing everything little thing getting to Friday night that is going to be where we win football games. We have the talent to win every game on our schedule. It’s whether or not we’re going to do the work and the preparation leading into Friday night.”

Callaway tuned up for its opener by playing a preseason game against Starr’s Mill last week.

It was all Callaway, which eased to a 48-7 victory while not allowing a point on defense.

Demetrius Coleman, Callaway’s junior quarterback, threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jacob Freeman, and Bigsby had a 90-yard scoring run.

Callaway’s new-look defense, which features nine new starters, enjoyed a dominant performance while forcing three turnovers in the first half, with Morman and Jalin Shephard each coming up with interceptions.

Starr’s Mill’s only points came on a fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter.

“I thought we had some guys step up and earn some positions that we were looking for,” Wiggins said. “I thought our defense played really physical. We created three turnovers in the first half. You always look for physicality and speed, and I thought we played like that. Offensively, we had a lot of explosive plays. So I felt good about that. There are always things we can do better. We have to block better, and tackle better, and just execute, but there were a lot of good things from that night.”



WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m. (Eastern)

WHERE: Opelika

LAST YEAR: Callaway went 11-3 and lost in Class AA semifinals; Opelika went 7-5 and lost in Class AAAAAA quarterfinals

LAST MEETING: Callaway beat Opelika 35-21 last year