Cavaliers are two wins from a title

Published 1:13 am Saturday, November 30, 2019


Daily News

They’re final-four bound.

The Callaway Cavaliers shrugged off a rough start to beat the Douglass-Atlanta Astros 41-20 in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs on Friday night at Callaway Stadium.

Callaway will host Brooks County next Friday in the semifinals, with the winner advancing to the state-championship game in Atlanta.

Douglass-Atlanta, taking advantage of some Callaway miscues, charged to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

The Cavaliers outscored the Astros 41-6 the rest of the way, though, with

Jalin Shephard turning the tide with a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby had four scoring runs for Callaway, and Demetrius Coleman threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Freeman with less than a minute left in the first half.

While Douglass-Atlanta had some offensive success in the first half, it was held scoreless in the second half by an inspired Callaway defense.

It wasn’t a flawless performance, but when the clock hit zero the Cavaliers had more points than the Astros, and that’s all that matters.

“I think this ballgame shows how much heart our football team has,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins, who has led his team to the state semifinals four times since 2013. “We had three turnovers early, and to continue to believe in what we do and stick together, I’m just so proud of these guys for the heart that they played with, and for their preparation for this game against a really good football team. Coach (Rodney) Cofield, I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s gotten better every year, and they really have a strong football team. Our guys kept fighting, and were able to find the momentum in the second half and we were able to pull away and get the win.”

The game couldn’t have started much worse for the Cavaliers.

The Astros drove for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession with Quintavious Lockett scoring on a 4-yard run, and later in the quarter Rodney Davie returned a fumble for a touchdown to push the lead to 14-0.

As for Callaway’s high-powered offense, its first three plays all resulted in turnovers, two fumbles and an interception.

Nothing was going right for the Cavaliers, and they needed someone to step up and make a play, and Jalin Shephard obliged.

Shephard returned a kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown, and the Blake Eubanks extra point cut the Douglass lead to 14-7 with 2:35 left in the first quarter.

“I had to turn the game around some way or another, and I took that one back,” said Shephard, who also blocked a punt and had an interception. “I’m glad I did.”

Following a Douglass-Atlanta punt, Callaway’s offense finally got something going, with Bigsby leading the way.

Bigsby had a 26-yard run into Douglass territory, and three plays later, the senior running back scored on a 24-yard, and Eubanks nailed the extra point to deadlock the score at 14-14 with 10:06 left in the first half.

The Astros, showing some fight of their own, responded with a touchdown, with Quandarius Sterling’s 6-yard touchdown run capping a 58-yard drive.

The two-point attempt was unsuccessful, and Callaway trailed 20-14 with 8:18 left in the first half.

Back came the Cavaliers, who went 66 yards for their third touchdown of the game.

The drive was kept alive by a pass-interference call on fourth down, and on the next play, Bigsby’s 5-yard touchdown run followed by Eubanks’ extra point gave Callaway a 21-20 lead with 6:46 remaining in the first half.

The Astros promptly went to work and made it to the Cavaliers’ 9-yard line before they were stuffed on a fourth-down play.

The Cavaliers, backed up to their 12-yard line with a little more than one minute to play in the first half, weren’t about to play things conservatively.

On first down, Coleman faked a handoff to Bigsby, rolled to his right, and threw a strike to Freeman, who made the catch and covered the final 40 yards for an 88-yard touchdown.

The extra-point attempt failed, and Callaway led 27-20, which was the score at the half.

In the third quarter, neither team was able to find any offensive success.

The Cavaliers had the ball three times in the third quarter, and they lost a fumble, punted, and were stopped on a fourth-down play.

Fortunately for Callaway, the defense shut down a Douglass offense that had moved the ball well in the first half.

“We talked them at the half and got on them a little bit,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator. “We said look, it’s 27-20. If they don’t score again, there’s no possible way they can win, and they kind of took that to heart.”

As the fourth quarter began, the Astros were on the move, and they were inside the Cavaliers’ 40-yard line when they turned the ball over on downs.

Callaway’s offense, after a shaky third quarter, went to work. Bigsby ripped off a 43-yard run, and Coleman followed with a 20-yard scamper of his own to put the ball on the 1-yard line.

On the next play, Bigsby scored on a 1-yard run, and Eubanks converted the extra point to give Callaway a 34-20 lead with 9:52 left in the game.

Callaway’s resurgent defense then came through with a fourth-down stop, and the offense took over at the Douglass 25-yard line.

Two plays later, Bigsby powered his way into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run, and Callaway led 41-20 with 6:05 to play.

Shephard salted the game away with an interception with 4:35 to play, putting an exclamation point on a dominant defensive display by Callaway in the second half.

“We took the momentum back leading into the half, and we just had to keep it going,” Shephard said. “We couldn’t have any more breakdowns, and the defense had to their job, and it was all a team effort.”

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