Callaway veterans come through
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Callaway Cavaliers were short-handed and facing a quality opponent, so they needed some of their veteran players to step up and make sure it was a winning night.
One of those players, Jalin Shephard, did his part and delivered a memorable performance as Callaway beat Bremen 26-16 in its Region 5-AA opener on Friday night.
Shephard, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, not only had three touchdown catches from Demetrius Coleman covering a combined 112 yards, but he also had a strong effort on defense as Callaway put the clamps on a potent Bremen offense.
Shephard had three catches against Bremen, and he made them count, showing off his ability to go up and get the ball while covered, as well as his speed to leave opposing defenders behind.
In the first quarter, Shephard went up and beat his defender in a one-one-one situation at midfield to make a catch, and he came down and raced to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown.
Late in the first half Shephard struck again.
Shephard got position on his defender in the end zone, and he went airborne and made the catch for the 21-yard touchdown, giving Callaway a 12-10 lead at the half.
On the first possession of the third quarter Shephard found the end zone for a third time.
On what was basically a handoff but counted as a pass, Shephard took the short forward pitch from Coleman and got to the edge, and he made a couple of defenders miss and made it into the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown, and the two-point conversion gave the Cavaliers a 20-10 lead.
On a roster with inexperienced receivers, Coleman has relied heavily on Shephard, and he knows he can always count on his friend and teammate to come through.
“That’s like my brother. I know what he can do,” Coleman said. “If he doesn’t catch it, I’m surprised. If he does (drop a pass), he’ll get the next one.”
Shephard’s impact wasn’t limited to offense.
An all-state defensive back, Shephard had six tackles, one forced fumble, and a pass breakup.
Shephard is also Callaway’s punter, and he did an outstanding job in that role as well.
Another one of Callaway’s veteran players who stepped up and contributed to the victory was senior LaQuize Gilbert, who like Shephard played a lot on offense and defense.
Gilbert had a monster game at linebacker with 14 tackles including two for loss, and he had a sack.
Because starting running back Charlie Dixon was unable to go, Gilbert also played a lot on offense, and he ran for 27 hard-earned yards on seven attempts and he caught two passes for 27 yards.
Coleman, who has been Callaway’s starting quarterback since the final game of the 2018 regular season, did his part as well with a stellar all-around game.
Coleman completed 7-of-19 passes for 191 yards with four touchdowns, and he also helped overcome Dixon’s absence by running for 95 yards on 13 attempts.
“Demetrius Coleman had a big night tonight leading our team,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “He kept his composure. I think he just gets better every week. And Jalin Shephard had a big night, and I’m really proud of LaQuize Gilbert. It was just a phenomenal effort. We talked about guys raising their effort in big games. It felt like those guys did tonight.”
MAKING PLAYS: When Demetrius Coleman put the ball in the air in the direction of Carlos Billingslea, he was confident in the junior’s ability to make a play.
Coleman’s confidence wasn’t misplaced.
In the second half with Callaway looking to put the game away, Billingslea beat his defender in a one-one-situation situation in the end zone for the 15-yard touchdown.
Billingslea played sparingly last season, but he’s been asked to take on a more prominent role this year following the departure of the team’s four leading wide receivers.
Billingslea had two catches for 52 yards against Bremen, including his Randy Moss-esque scoring reception that gave Callaway a 26-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Coleman has been working closely with Billingslea during the summer, preseason practice and the regular season, and he has no doubt about his teammate’s ability.
“I had confidence in him,” Coleman said. “I probably had more confidence in him than he had in himself.”
Billingslea also made a critical contribution as a defensive back, and he also did an exceptional job returning punts.
A year ago, Coleman was completing passes to Antinez Blount, Jacob Freeman, Jymere Jones and Markus Morman, but all of those players graduated.
Callaway’s offense has continued to thrive with, outside of Shephard, a new group of players catching passes.
In addition to Billingslea and Shephard, Kevin Alfero, Q Redding and Treyon Tucker have been catching passes from Coleman.
“They just have to believe in themselves like I believe in them. That’s all,” Coleman said of the receivers. “If they believe in themselves, we’ll be a hard team to beat.”
DOUBLE DUTY: Like fellow linebacker LaQuize Gilbert, Kier Jackson was a busy man during the Bremen game.
With Charlie Dixon out of action, Gilbert and Jackson took over the running-back duties, and they combined for 52 yards on 11 attempts.
Gilbert ran for 27 yards on seven attempts, and Jackson had 25 yards on four carries.
Both players also produced defensively.
Gilbert led the Cavaliers with 14 tackles, and Jackson had 11 tackles.
DEFENSIVE PLAY-MAKERS: After the Cavaliers scored a touchdown to take a 12-10 lead late in the first half, the Blue Devils had possession with an opportunity to reclaim the lead.
Cam Smith had other ideas.
The junior defensive back picked off a pass at the Callaway 40-yard line, denying Bremen a chance to put points on the board shortly before the half.
The Cavaliers nearly scored themselves, but the half ended when Carlos Billingslea was tackled at the 6-yard line after catching a 36-yard pass from Demetrius Coleman.
The interception was part of a terrific performance for Smith, who also had eight tackles, including one for loss.
Another defensive player who stood tall was defensive lineman Caleb Woody, who had six tackles including two for loss, and he had 1.5 sacks.