Callaway comeback falls short
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
TALLAPOOSA – After a nightmarish start, the Callaway Cavaliers hung tough and gave themselves a fighting chance, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Callaway, after falling behind 22-0 in the first half, got within six points and had a chance to win it, but it was the home-standing Haralson County Rebels walking away with a thrilling 36-29 victory in a Region 5-AA showdown on Tuesday night in Tallapoosa.
While the Cavaliers showed their grit and determination to make a game of it, they were unable to overcome a talented team, as well as some critical miscues.
“We made a lot of mistakes that Haralson County was able to capitalize on,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins. “We had four turnovers that resulted in 28 points for them. You just can’t do that against anybody, much less a really good football team like we played in Haralson County. To their credit, offensively they were able to sustain drives and run a lot of time off the clock. We put the ball on the ground, had a couple of interceptions, and that presents problems.”
The Cavaliers (5-1 overall) fell to 1-1 in region play, while the Rebels (7-1 overall) moved into first place in the region with a 2-1 record.
Callaway can secure a state-playoff spot with a road win over Temple on Saturday, and it closes the regular season with a home game against rival Heard County on Nov. 20.
“Losses are very tough, but we have to put that behind us and move forward,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got a big game with Temple. They’re a really good football team, so it’ll be a big challenge when we go on the road Saturday night to Temple.”
In Tuesday’s game, the Cavaliers found themselves in a 16-0 hole less than 10 minutes into the game, and they were down 22-0 when Jalin Shephard provided a spark when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.
The Cavaliers put together touchdown drives on their first two possessions of the second half, with Charlie Dixon and Demetrius Coleman scoring on running plays, to get within six with 9:41 to play.
Following a Haralson County three-and-out, Callaway had a chance to take the lead with a touchdown and an extra point, but a lost fumble ended that possibility.
Haralson County took advantage of that break and scored a touchdown to take a 36-22 lead, and Callaway capped the scoring with a touchdown pass from Coleman to Carlos Billinsglea with six seconds remaining.
Haralson recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the clock ran out after one kneel-down play.
“Looking at the positives, we were down by a significant amount, and our guys kept fighting,” Wiggins said. “We gave ourselves an opportunity to have a chance to win the ballgame toward the end, and we just didn’t make enough plays to get it done, but I’m proud of our guys’ effort to give us that opportunity.”
The Rebels, with junior quarterback Clay Hyatt leading the way, marched down the field on the opening possession for the touchdown.
Hyatt scored on a 7-yard run to cap the 63-yard drive, and he also had the two-point conversion run to give the Rebels an 8-0 lead
Callaway’s first possession lasted one play, with Crane Benefield intercepting a Coleman pass.
The Rebels made it to the Cavaliers’ 27-yard line when they were stopped, and they lined up to apparently attempt a 44-yard field goal.
Instead the Rebels flawlessly pulled off a fake field-goal attempt, with Antonio Crapp throwing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Hyatt, and Hyatt converted the two-point attempt with a run, and the Cavaliers trailed 16-0 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
It remained a 16-0 game until, with 11 seconds left in the first half, Hyatt scored on a 1-yard run, and the Rebels led 22-0 after an unsuccessful two-point attempt.
Needing a spark to gain some momentum, the Cavaliers got a big play from one of their senior leaders.
Jalin Shephard gathered in the kickoff at the 25-yard line, and he broke a tackle attempt at the 40-yard line and raced the rest of the way to the end zone for the touchdown.
Coleman completed a pass to Keshawn Suggs for the two-point conversion, and Haralson County’s lead was 22-8 heading to the halftime break.
Callaway’s offense, which was shut down in the first two quarters, found its footing in the second half.
On the first possession of the second half, the Cavaliers embarked on a 13-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dixon, and Blake Eubanks made the first of his three extra points to make it a 22-15 game with 5:52 left in the third quarter.
Dixon did a lot of damage on the drive with 52 rushing yards, including runs of 17 yards and 13 yards to get things started.
The Rebels responded with a touchdown drive of their own, with Hyatt scoring on a 5-yard run to extend the lead to 28-15 with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Back came the Cavaliers, with Osiris Rivas returning the kickoff to the Rebels’ 21-yard line.
Four plays after Dixon had a critical 5-yard run on fourth down to keep the drive alive, Coleman scored on a 2-yard run, and a Eubanks extra point with 9:41 left in the game trimmed the Rebels’ lead to 28-22.
Callaway’s defense, needing to make a stop, did its job, with Haralson County forced to punt following a three-and-out.
The Cavaliers, as had been the case throughout the second half, weren’t having any trouble moving the ball.
The Cavaliers picked up a first-down on a 12-yard completion from Coleman to Andrew Locke, and a 7-yard run by Dixon gave them a first down at their own 41-yard line.
The drive ended with a lost fumble, though, and the Rebels drove 36 yards for the touchdown with Hyatt scoring on a 1-yard run, and Hyatt’s two-point conversion run pushed the lead to 36-22 with 1:54 to play.
The Cavaliers went back to work, with Coleman finishing a 76-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Billingslea, and Eubanks connected on the extra point to make it a six-point game.
The Cavaliers would have had time for one offensive play if they’d recovered the onside kick, but they were unable to, and it was the Rebels celebrating a massive home win over the state’s top-ranked Class AA team.
In the end, it was a difficult first half that ultimately made the difference, although the Cavaliers made things interesting and gave themselves a chance.
“We didn’t execute early on,” Wiggins said. “We gave Haralson County field position and momentum with turnovers, and to be down 22-0 and still have an opportunity to win a ballgame at the end, I think that’s a great testimony to the fight in our kids. There’s a lot of things we have to do better against any opponent. I am proud of the effort in the second half to get us back in the game.”