Memorable win for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
THOMASVILLE – Somehow, after everything that had gone wrong on a Friday night in Thomasville, the Callaway Cavaliers had the ball at the end with a chance to do something special, to walk away with a win.
The Callaway Cavaliers and Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets met for the first time in the history of their programs last week, and they played a memorable, thrilling game that wasn’t decided until the final minute.
Thomas County Central had the ball late with an opportunity to run out the clock and preserve its lead, but Callaway’s defense made a timely stop.
The Yellow Jackets had a seven-point lead with less than a minute remaining, and head coach Ashley Henderson decided to take an intentional safety rather than risk something going wrong on a punt.
Following the kickoff after the safety, the Cavaliers took over at their own 42-yard line with 48 seconds remaining, so they had to cover 58 yards in less than a minute to earn a win.
Callaway quarterback Demetrius Coleman, who’d thrown an interception on the previous possession, went to work, expertly and calming leading the team down the field.
The drive started with an incompletion, but Coleman got things started with an 8-yard completion to Carlos Billinglsea, and he ran five yards for a first down, putting the ball in Thomas County Central territory.
Jalin Shephard, like Coleman a senior who is no stranger to pressure-packed situations on a Friday night, caught passes of 10 yards and 11 yards, and suddenly Callaway was at the 22-yard line.
Moments later the Yellow Jackets were called for a late-hit penalty on Coleman, and the Cavaliers had the ball on the 10-yard line with 13 seconds left.
On first down, Coleman threw an incomplete pass, but on second down, magic happened.
Coleman rolled out and put everything he had into a pass into the end zone, and Shephard reached up and made the catch for the touchdown, and the Cavaliers led with seven seconds left.
Blake Eubanks converted the extra point, and after Thomas County Central ran one play following the kickoff, Callaway celebrated an electrifying 16-14 victory on the grass turf at The Jackets’ Nest.
The Cavaliers committed turnovers, had untimely penalties, made a handful of costly mistakes and were facing a talented and determined opponent, but when the clock hit zero, they had the win, much to the delight of head coach Pete Wiggins.
“I’m so proud of our kids, and the character they displayed,” said Wiggins, whose team improved to 4-0. “They work so hard each day, and we feel we’re going to win regardless of any situation, regardless of how much our backs are against the wall. We showed that tonight, against a really good football team. Coach Henderson at Thomas County Central, what a tradition, and they’ve got a really good football team, and I’m really proud of our guys fighting on the road, a big road trip at their place, we had some adversities throughout the game that we handled, and we overcame those and kept fighting, kept believing in one another and found a way to win, and I think that’s a great testimony for the character of our kids.”
The Cavaliers thought they may have lost a chance to win the game when Coleman threw an interception with less than three minutes remaining, and the Yellow Jackets took possession at their own 19-yard line with 2:54 to play.
Callaway’s defense stood tall, though, giving the offense another opportunity, and Coleman wasn’t going to let this one go to waste.
“I threw the pick, and I stayed level-headed,” Coleman said. “Usually I have a hot head, but I stayed cool, and led them down the field.”
Junior receiver Kevin Alfaro, who had a team-best six catches in the game, said “we’ve got a lot of confidence in our quarterback. There’s nobody we’d rather have than Demetrius.
Shephard, who has far and away the most experience of any of Callaway’s wide receivers, made three critical catches on the final drive, including the game-winner.
The two have been teammates going back to their days as recreation football players, and when Coleman released his final pass, “I knew he had it.”
For his part, Shephard has seen Coleman perform at a high level time and time again, so he had no doubt about his friend and teammate’s ability to make the winning plays.
“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.”
Coleman has been starting since late in his sophomore season, and he has helped lead the Cavaliers to the state semifinals the past two years.
“Demetrius has been here so many times,” Wiggins said. “He kept his cool, kept his composure, and we marched down the field. It was a great job by the offensive line, by the wideouts. They kept plugging and making plays. It was a really special effort right there at the end of the game.”
Wiggins also credited a defense that stood tall all night.
“Thomas County Central has a really explosive offense, and our defense they made those stops when they had to,” Wiggins said.
Linebacker Austin Thomas led the defensive effort with 11 tackles, while fellow linebacker LaQuize Gilbert had eight tackles, including one for loss. Defensive back Osiris Rivas added eight tackles, and linebacker Kier Jackson had seven tackles.
Offensively, Coleman was terrific, completing 20-of-33 passes for 165 yards with a touchdown, and he ran for 54 yards on nine attempts.
Senior running back Charlie Dixon, after missing the previous game with an injury, ran for 71 yards on 18 attempts, and he had a touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Eight different players caught a pass for the Cavaliers, including Alfero, who had six receptions for 37 yards.
Shephard had five catches for 57 yards, Billingslea had three receptions for 22 yards, and Quenderious Redding caught two passes for 11 yard.
Keshawn Suggs, a standout defensive lineman, made an impact on offense with a 19-yard catch, and Treyon Tucker, Dixon and Rivas each had one reception.
Also getting the job done was an offensive line that included starters Lathan Patterson, Kamez Hopson, Adarian Barnes, Jacob Miles and Josh Perry.
“I give good credit to my O-line,” Coleman said. “They had some down time, but they bounced back, and my wide receivers, too. They stepped up and made plays, my young guys.”
On special teams, Eubanks made both of his extra-point attempts, Shephard did an outstanding job punting, and Jarvis Parks blocked a field-goal attempt in the first half.
Neither offense did much in a scoreless first half.
Thomas County Central’s best chance to score came early in the second quarter when it was deep in Callaway territory, but that drive stalled, and Parks blocked the field-goal attempt, keeping it a scoreless game.
Callaway’s offense came to life late in the half. On the Cavaliers’ second-to-last possession of the half, they made it to the Yellow Jackets’ 17-yard line before a fourth-down play failed.
The Cavaliers got the ball back with 16 seconds left in the half, and Coleman took off on a 40-yard run, and he was stopped five yards short of the end zone as time expired.
The Cavaliers got the ball first to start the second half, and they lost a fumble in their own territory, giving the ball to the Yellow Jackets in prime field position.
Thomas County Central took advantage of that break, with Tykeem Wallace scoring on a 39-yard run, and the extra point made it a 7-0 game with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers made it back into Yellow Jackets’ territory on their next possession, but they were stopped on fourth down at the 26-yard line.
The Yellow Jackets were on the move when Gilbert made one of the plays of the game with a third-down sack to force a punt.
The Cavaliers responded with a 10-play, 52-yard touchdown drive, with Dixon scoring on a 7-yard run moments into the fourth quarter, and Eubanks tied it with his extra point.
Back came the Yellow Jackets, who reclaimed the lead with Kalique Guyton throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to DJ Walden with six minutes to play.
The Cavaliers’ next two possessions ended with a punt and an interception, but thanks to the defense making some plays, they had just enough time at the end for a game-winning drive.
“All the coaches push us so hard at practice,” Alfero said. “We’re prepared for stuff like this. When we’re down, we’re never out of it.”