Epic win for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
THOMASVILLE – Four years ago, the Callaway Cavaliers drove the length of the field for a stunning, epic road win over Screven County in the state playoffs.
Flash forward to the current season, and the Cavaliers found themselves in the same situation, facing a talented team on the road, needing to drive for a late touchdown to find a win.
For the Cavaliers, history repeated itself.
Callaway drove 58 yards in 40 seconds, and Demetrius Coleman threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jalin Shephard, giving Callaway a thrilling 16-14 victory over Thomas County Central.
“When we go on the field, we know we’re going to win, regardless of any situation, regardless of how much our backs are against the wall,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggin, whose team improved to 4-0. “Tonight we beat a really good football team. They’ve got a really good tradition, and a really good football team. I’m really proud of our guys for fighting. It was a long road trip, and we had some adversity we had to overcome, and we kept fighting, they kept believing in themselves, and believing in one another, and they found a way to win. It’s a great testimony to the toughness of our kids.”
Thomas County Central had the ball late with an opportunity to run out the clock and secure the win, but Callaway’s defense made a stop.
Rather than risk something going wrong on the punt, Thomas County opted to take a safety and give Callaway two points.
Following the free kick, Callaway had the ball at its own 42-yard line with 48 seconds showing on the clock trailing 14-9.
Coleman, Callaway’s senior quarterback, went to work, completing two passes to Shephard and one to Carlos Billingslea while also taking off on a 6-yard run for a key first down.
Following a roughing-the-passer penalty, Callaway had the ball at the 10-yard line, and after an incomplete pass, Coleman threw a strike to Shephard, who went up and made the catch for the touchdown.
Blake Eubanks converted the extra point, and Callaway led 16-14 with seven seconds left.
Thomas County Central ran one play following the kickoff, and when Callaway made the tackle, the celebration was on.
“We know we’re never out of it,” said junior wide receiver Kevin Alfero, who made some key catches. “We work hard, the coaches push us hard in practice. We know we can win any game.”
It helped that Callaway had Coleman at quarterback.
Coleman has been the starter since late in the 2018 season, and he has performed well in a lot of big games and isn’t going to let the moment be too much for him.
“I just stay level-headed, stay cool, and lead us down the field,” Coleman said.
Wiggins had absolute confidence in Coleman, who helped Callaway reach the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019.
“Demetrius has been here so many times,” Wiggins said. “He kept his composure, and we marched down the field, and it was a great job by the offensive line. They kept plugging, kept making plays.”
Another player who is no stranger to the spotlight, and has made his share of memorable plays, is Shephard, and he came through when the team needed him most.
On the final drive, Shephard had three catches, including the game-winner.
“I knew (Shephard) had it,” Coleman said. “Charlie and LaQuize (Gilbert) did a good job running the ball, the defense did a great job like they do every game. It was just an all-around good team win.”
For Shephard, having Coleman as his quarterback made a difference.
“I have a lot of confidence in Demetrius,” Shephard said. “I’ve been playing with Demetrius since I was 4. That’s just routine for us. We’ve been doing that forever.”
While the offenses for both teams produced some fireworks in the second half, it was all defense in the first half, with neither team scoring.
Thomas County Central broke the scoreless deadlock on a Tykeem Wallace 39-yard touchdown run with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
Callaway answered early in the fourth quarter, with a Dixon 7-yard scoring run and the Eubanks extra point making it a 7-7 game with 11:18 to play.
Moments before Dixon’s touchdown, Alfero caught a third-down pass from Coleman to keep the drive alive.
Back came Thomas County Central, with Kalique Guyton tossing a touchdown pass to DJ Walden, and Callaway trailed 14-7 with six minutes remaining.
The Cavaliers went three-and-out on their ensuing drive, but thanks to the defense, they got one final chance, and they took advantage of it and pulled off the memorable road win.
“It was great to come down here, in this atmosphere and beat a great TCC team,” Shephard said. “It was a great win.”