Cavaliers win region championship
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
A regular season that’s been like no other had a familiar ending for the Callaway Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers came into Friday’s game against the rival Heard County Braves having won seven region championships since 2008 under head coach Pete Wiggins.
Callaway has added an eighth region title to the collection following Friday’s 30-14 victory over Heard County at Callaway Stadium.
Callaway (7-1 overall) finished with a 3-1 region record, and it secured the region title with its win as well as a victory by Bremen over Haralson County.
Callaway will now turn its attention to the state playoffs as it looks to make another extended run after reaching the semifinals the past two seasons.
“I’m extremely proud of our 17 seniors for their leadership, for their pure determination, and just pure effort, day in and day out through one hell of a season,” said Wiggins, Callaway’s head coach since 2005. “The adversities that this team has faced and been able to overcome is so special.”
The Cavaliers, like so many other teams across the state, have had to deal with losing players because of Covid-19 quarantine procedures, and they’ve also had some costly injuries to key players.
When the dust settled, though, Callaway was the last man standing in arguably the state’s best Class AA region.
“With the predicament we were in, nobody knew what could happen,” said senior running back Charlie Dixon, who had a monster night that included two touchdown runs. “We’re truly honored and blessed to be in this situation.”
Senior quarterback Demetrius Coleman, who threw touchdown passes to Jalin Shephard and Andrew Locke, said “we proved all the doubters wrong. This shows how strong we are, and how we’re a team.”
Senior LaQuize Gilbert, who led the defense from his linebacker position, said “it’s very special” to win a region title.
“We’ve been working hard even though we’re missing folks,” Gilbert said. “We still have to execute, and play hard, and we’ve got to give it our all. This one right here, it feels good.”
The Cavaliers were trailing 17-10 after Ashton Bonner raced 80 yards on a fake-punt attempt midway through the third quarter.
The rest of the game was dominated by the Cavaliers, though.
Callaway tied it on a Coleman to 41-yard touchdown pass to Shephard and a Blake Eubanks extra point with 2:27 left in the third quarter.
Callaway took the lead with 8:10 to play on Coleman’s 20-yard scoring pass to Locke, and Dixon put the game on ice with a 12-yard touchdown run with 3:43 left in the game.
After Gilbert sacked Heard County quarterback Maurice French on fourth down, Callaway ran a couple of kneel-down plays to run the clock out, and the celebration was on.
The Cavaliers not only won the region title, but they retained the Pulpwood Classic trophy, and they’ll begin their playoff run next week at Callaway Stadium.
“I think this is a great testimony to what these guys are all about,” Wiggins said. “It’s a great testimony to their character, to their work ethic, and to their belief in one another, our coaches, and our football team.”
Heard County got the ball first, and Bonner ripped off a 65-yard run to set up a 35-yard field goal by James Newell with 9:14 left in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers answered with a scoring drive of their own.
Dixon had a pair of 14-yard runs to help Callaway get the ball deep into Heard County territory, and Blake Eubanks made a 39-yard field goal to deadlock the score at 3-3 late in the first quarter.
Back came the Braves, who drove for the go-ahead touchdown, with Isiah O’Neal scoring on a 3-yard run, and the Cavaliers trailed 10-3 with 7:59 left in the first half.
The Cavaliers responded with a touchdown drive of their own.
The big play on the drive was a 22-yard completion from Coleman to Sam Williams that put the ball on the Braves’ 30-yard line.
Dixon capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, and Eubanks made the extra point to deadlock the score at 10-10 with 4:20 left in the second quarter, and that was the score at the half.
It was still tied when the Braves lined up in punting formation on their first possession of the second half, and head coach Tim Barron called for the fake.
Bonner took the direct snap, and he raced down the right sideline for the 80-yard touchdown, and the Braves were up 17-10 midway through the third quarter.
The Cavaliers, trailing for the second time in the game, just put their heads down and went back to work, driving 74 yards for the tying touchdown.
Dixon had a 16-yard catch on third down to keep the drive alive, and Coleman found Shephard in the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown pass with 2:27 left in the third quarter.
“It’s like a routine play for us,” Coleman said. “He does that every day in practice.”
The defense then stepped up and forced a Heard County punt, and Callaway went 90 yards for the go-ahead score.
Dixon got things started with a 30-yard run, and Coleman hooked up with Carlos Billingslea for a 19-yard completion to the Heard County 19-yard line.
Three plays later on third down, Coleman dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Locke, who made the sure-handed grab for the 20-yard touchdown, and the Eubanks extra point gave Callaway a 24-17 lead with 8:10 to play.
Heard County’s next two possessions ended with turnovers, with Jarvis Parks recovering a fumble and Osiris Rivas coming through with an interception.
The Cavaliers couldn’t do anything followed the fumble recovery, but they scored two plays after the Rivas interception.
The Cavaliers got the ball at the Braves’ 20-yard line following the Rivas pick, and that led to a Dixon 12-yard touchdown run, and the lead was 30-17 with 3:43 to play.
The Braves picked up a first down and made it into Cavaliers’ territory on their next possession, but their hopes ended with an unsuccessful fourth-down play with a little more than two minutes remaining.