Callaway, Fitzgerald set for rematch
Published 9:25 pm Wednesday, November 20, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s time for round two.
The 2009 season was a memorable one for the Callaway Cavaliers, who won two state-playoff games for the first time ever.
Callaway’s opponent in the quarterfinals that season was an unbeaten Fitzgerald team that had dismantled every opponent in its path.
Callaway hung tough in that game, but it was ultimately Fitzgerald walking away with a 35-21 victory to advance to the semifinals.
A lot has changed since that showdown a decade ago.
At the time, Callaway was striving to establish itself as a consistent winner, having won its first-ever playoff game the previous year.
Now, the Cavaliers are the team so many others are chasing.
The Cavaliers (10-1) have won a playoff game for the eighth straight year, and they’re one victory away from a sixth trip to the state quarterfinals in 11 years.
Standing in Callaway’s way, once again, is Fitzgerald, which is hoping to duplicate what happened in the previous game.
Callaway will host Fitzgerald (8-3) on Friday, with the winner advancing to the Class AA quarterfinals to play either Jefferson County or Douglass-Atlanta.
Fitzgerald earned its spot in the second round by getting a 30-12 road win over Bleckley County.
Callaway overwhelmed Chattooga 54-7 to win a first-round playoff game for the eighth consecutive year.
“They’re a solid football team,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said of Fitzgerald. “They’re well-coached, they’re hard-nosed. They do what they do extremely well. They play good defense. It’s what you expect this time of year. The number of teams still left playing is fewer. Everybody expects to win. There’s a high level of competition.”
While Fitzgerald is no doubt playing well, there may not be another Class AA team in the state that has things rolling like Callaway.
Callaway opened the season with a 10-7 loss to an Opelika team that is in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals of the Alabama state playoffs. Since that loss, Callaway has been blowing the doors off of every team it has played.
The good times continued last week, with Callaway building a 47-0 halftime lead on the way to the 54-7 win over Chattooga.
As has been the case throughout the season, the Cavaliers made a bunch of big plays on offense while giving up next to nothing on defense.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Wiggins said. “I’m proud of our seniors. I feel like they’ve helped us take it to a higher level at our school. That’s from the weight room, that’s out here on the field. We’re still practicing really fast, and really hard. In the weight room we changed some stuff up this year and kind of went a different path. Our seniors embraced that, and I think it’s made us better, and I think that we’re stronger than we’ve been in the past, and I think we’re faster. That senior leadership’s been critical in making all that happen.”
A big part of the story for the Cavaliers is the performance of an explosive offense led by junior quarterback Demetrius Coleman.
Coleman has thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season with 28 touchdowns, and he had six scoring passes against Chattooga.
Jacob Freeman, one of Callaway’s many big-play receivers, had three of the scoring catches against Chattooga.
Antinez Blount, who has had a breakout senior season, had two touchdown catches, and Jalin Shephard had one.
Freeman, Blount, Shephard, Jymere Jones and Markus Morman have all been popular targets for Coleman this season.
Running back Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby added touchdown runs of 51 and 60 yards against Chattooga.
Bigsby came up big in the playoffs, just as he did a year ago when he ran for nearly 800 yards in four playoff games.
Coleman is confident in all of the offensive play-makers around him.
“I’m blessed to have (receivers) like that, and in the backfield with Tank,” Coleman said.
Callaway’s defense, meanwhile, nearly posted a fourth consecutive shutout.
Callaway was leading 54-0 and the starters had long since left in the game when Chattooga scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Senior linebacker R.J. Williams, who has come back strong after missing a few games with an injury earlier in the season, led Callaway with eight tackles, and fellow linebacker Charlie Dixon had seven tackles.
Jalin Shephard and Cam Smith each had an interception.
From a special-teams standpoint, kicker Blake Eubanks made six extra points, and Callaway did a nice job on kickoff coverage.
Callaway will look for a repeat performance against a stout Fitzgerald team this week.
“We’re putting ourselves in good situations to play at a high level against a really good football team,” Wiggins said. “We just have to go out and play our brand of ball, and hopefully minimize mistakes, and execute and have some explosive plays, and see what happens.”
Fitzgerald, like Callaway, is accustomed to making runs deep into the state playoffs.
A year ago, in fact, Fitzgerald and Callaway both made it to the state semifinals, and they both lost close games.
Callaway was beaten by Rockmart 28-22, and Fitzgerald lost to eventual state-champion Heard County 38-30.
Standing in Fitzgerald’s way is a Callaway team that is also hungry to win that elusive state title, and Wiggins appreciates the energy the players are bringing to the field as the playoff journey continues.
“I think when you come out here on the practice field you can feel an excitement,” Wiggins said. “There’s a belief in what we do, there’s a belief in one another. These guys want to win, and they want to get better. We have a high work ethic, and it’s paying off for us on Friday night.”
CALLAWAY VS. FITZGERALD
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Callaway Stadium
RECORDS: Callaway (10-1); Fitzgerald (8-3)
LAST MEETING: Fitzgerald beat Callaway 35-21 in the quarterfinals of the 2009 state playoffs