Callaway defense stands tall

Published 12:25 am Saturday, August 24, 2019


Daily News

OPELIKA, Ala. – Callaway’s new-look defense stood tall.

Callaway’s defense delivered an impressive performance in Friday’s season opener, although it was Opelika walking away with a 10-7 win.

How effective Callaway’s defense would be in Thursday’s game was a bit of a question mark considering nearly every key player from the 2018 unit graduated.

Things started out poorly, with Opelika taking advantage of a short field following a turnover and scoring a touchdown on its first possession.

After that opening possession, though, the Bulldogs were kept out of the end zone.

That the Cavaliers were in the game despite four turnovers and a slew of offensive penalties was a testament to the effort of the defense.

“From a defensive standpoint, I thought we played really hard,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator. “I thought after the first drive when they scored on the first drive we settled in. I thought we were a little shell-shocked right there. They gave us some different formations we hadn’t seen that we had to adjust to, but I thought after that as a whole we played really hard.”

The Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals last season in large part because of a suffocating defense.

Most of those players graduated, including nearly every defensive lineman who either started, or saw significant playing time.

In fact the only returning player who got some time on the defensive line last season was Keshawn Suggs, who started Thursday’s game at defensive end. The other starting defensive end on Thursday was Anthony Elliott, and the interior linemen were Jabari Smith and Tray Stephens.

All of the defensive linemen who subbed in were getting their first varsity playing time.

“Suggs is the only one who played on the defensive line last year,” Hubbard said. “Elliott played a little bit last year at linebacker, but he didn’t play on the defensive line. Jabari Smith played some at linebacker. The rest of those guys are brand new.”

The Callaway defensive player with the most experience is senior linebacker R.J. Williams, and he stood tall against Opelika.

Williams was one of Callaway’s leading tacklers last season, and he had a big-time effort on Thursday.

“He’s probably going to be in the upper teens in tackles (against Opelika),” Hubbard said. “He was in on a lot of plays. I thought he played really hard

Callaway’s other returning starter on defense is defensive back Jalin Shephard, and he had a tremendous all-around game.

In addition to what he did on defense, Shephard also handled the punting duties and was effective in that role.

“I thought Jalin Shephard played a good job at corner, and he also did a great job punting the football,” Hubbard said. “We made that change about two days ago. We just felt like the other guys weren’t getting it off quick enough, and we knew he’d get it off. He’s been in the mix, but we decided to go with him.”

Hubbard added that “watching the film, I felt Keshawn Suggs, Anthony Elliott, R.J. Williams, and Jalin Shephard played a high level of football. We just have to continue to get some of those younger guys ready, and probably start trying to play a few more guys before we get into region play just to see what they can do.”

Other defensive standouts including Jacob Freeman and Markus Morman, Osiris Rivas at cornerback, and Charlie Dixon at linebacker.

“The thing that made you feel good is, we looked like we knew what we were doing, and (Opelika) went at a really fast pace, too,” Hubbard said. “They were hurry-up. They went at a faster pace than we expected, but we were still able to get lined up, and get our calls in. We had some more sub packages that we wanted to run but we just couldn’t get them in because it was so quick. They ended up making us stay in one defense. We made mistakes, but the biggest thing is if you looked at it was we played hard all night. We got after it.”

Offensively it was a struggle for the Cavaliers, who turned it over four times, three on fumbles and once on an interception.

Callaway was also hit hard by penalties, including a number of pre-snap miscues.

Callaway’s lone touchdown came in the game’s final minute.

Quarterback Demetrius Coleman hooked up with Antinez Blount for a 40-yard completion at the Opelika 5-yard line.

Two plays later, Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby scored on a 1-yard run, and Blake Eubanks made the extra point to trim Opelika’s lead to 10-7.

Opelika recovered the ensuing onside kick, and it ran one kneel-down play before the clock ran out.

Bigsby ran for 114 yards on 21 attempts with a touchdown, and he had three lost fumbles.

“I thought our effort was high all night,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “I thought that the determination in our kids was great. We just can’t give teams like Opelika, or any team, the opportunities we did with four turnovers, and at least 15 penalties. We gave them a lot of good situations, but I was proud of our effort, and proud of our physicality against a really good football team. They have a lot of tradition here, and for our kids to come up 10-7 at the end, I’m proud of their effort.”

Callaway is off next week, and it will face LaGrange at Callaway Stadium on Sept. 6.

Callaway plays Cross Keys on Sept. 13 and Troup on Sept. 20 before opening Region 5-AA play on Sept. 26 against Temple.

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