Decision pays off for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Callaway Cavaliers didn’t need a touchdown to take the lead, but with the goal line within sight and with only a yard needed for a first down, they decided to roll the dice.
With less than two minutes remaining in Friday’s second-round state-playoff showdown against Lovett, Callaway was facing a fourth-and-one situation at the 7-yard line.
The game was tied at 9-9, and from that short of a distance, sure-footed kicker Blake Eubanks was a safe bet to put the ball between the uprights.
Rather than send Eubanks in to attempt the go-ahead field goal, head coach Pete Wiggins kept the offense on the field.
Offensive coordinator Zach Giddens dialed up a straight-forward running play, and the players executed it perfectly.
Quarterback Demetrius Coleman handed the ball off to Charlie Dixon, and the senior powered his way through a cavernous hole created by the offensive linemen and into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.
Eubanks made the extra point, and the Cavaliers led 16-9.
Jalin Shephard intercepted a pass moments later to put the finishing touches on the thrilling win, with Callaway prevailing 16-9 to keep its season alive and advance to the third round of the state playoffs.
That the Callaway coaches decided to go for it on fourth down was a testament to the ability of everyone on the offense, including Dixon, who has run for nearly 500 yards in his past three games.
“There were a few debates (about going for it),” Wiggins said. “As a staff, we felt like we could make it. So, coach Giddens made a great call, the O-line opened up a hole, and Charlie got the score.”
Dixon, who had a 6-yard touchdown run in the first half, was determined to pay off the trust Wiggins put in him by converting the fourth-down play, and he did that and more.
As he prepared for the decisive play, Dixon said his mindset was “nothing can stop me.”
“Whatever you do, do not stop moving your feet,” Dixon said. “Continue to move your feet, no matter what the cost is.”
It helped that the offensive line created a nice opening for Dixon to run through.
It’s an offensive line that included starters Lathan Patterson, Kamez Hopson, Adarian Barnes, Jacob Miles and Nate Lee.
“I really thank my O-line for everything they do for me,” Dixon said. “I really need them.”
Dixon was a workhorse against Lovett, running for 110 tough yards on 25 carries, and he had two touchdowns.
In the previous game, Dixon ran for 177 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns against Heard County, and he had 211 yards on 27 carries with four touchdowns against Temple.
So in his past three games, Dixon has 498 rushing yards on 80 carries with eight touchdowns.
SHEPHARD SHINES: Jalin Shephard, Callaway’s dynamic play-maker, had a brilliant performance against Lovett.
Shephard made a massive impact on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Shephard had two late-game interceptions that helped secure the win, and he had seven tackles.
The first of those two interceptions set up Callaway deep in Lovett territory, and that led to the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes to play.
After Callaway took the lead, Shephard intercepted another pass to seal the victory.
On offense, Shephard was Callaway’s leading receiver, catching three passes for 74 yards from Demetrius Coleman.
On special teams, Shephard blocked an extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter that kept the game tied at 9-9
Shephard knew how tough of a challenge it would be coming into the game, and he certainly did his part to make sure Callaway prevailed.
“They were a great team to play against,” Shephard said. “Coach (Pete Wiggins) told us this was going to be a big challenge facing them. We were just ready to step up and take that challenge.”
ON TARGET: Demetrius Coleman, Callaway’s senior quarterback, put up solid numbers to help his team get past Lovett.
Coleman completed 10-of-16 passes for 150 yards, and while he threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, the team was able to overcome those turnovers.
Jalin Shephard had three catches for 74 yards, and Carlos Billingslea caught four passes for 36 yards.
Sam Williams had one catch that went for 36 yards, and Andrew Locke and Charlie Dixon had one reception apiece.
WHAT A NIGHT: In the first half, Callaway linebacker LaQuize Gilbert went down with an ankle injury, and he limped to the sideline.
That wasn’t going to keep Gilbert off the field, though, and the senior soon returned, and his impact on the game was massive.
Gilbert had a team-leading 16 tackles, including a memorable tackle for loss near the goal line.
In the third quarter, Lovett had the ball on the 1-yard line.
Lovett freshman quarterback Preston Lusink looked like he was going to waltz into the end zone on a running play, but Gilbert came flying in to tackle him for a 1-yard loss.
Lovett went for it on fourth down and failed to score, and Callaway maintained a 9-3 lead.
Although Lovett later did score a touchdown to tie it, Gilbert’s tackle of Lusink was a critical moment in a close game.
“That play was real big,” Gilbert said. “If they would have got that touchdown we would have been down. I knew I had to make that play. I knew I couldn’t let my team down. I gave it my all. That could have been my last game.”
BALLHAWK: Lovett was held scoreless in the first half, and junior defensive back Cameron Smith was a key reason why. Smith had two interceptions, and they came on Lovett’s first two possessions of the game.
On the Lions’ first possession, they drove all the way to the Cavaliers’ 5-yard line, but Smith intercepted a pass in the end zone.
Smith’s second interception gave Callaway possession in Lovett territory, although that didn’t lead to points.
STELLAR EFFORT: Kier Jackson, a junior linebacker, had 10 tackles to help Callaway hold a high-powered Lovett offense to nine points.
Jackson also contributed offensively at running back, allowing Charlie Dixon to take an occasional break.
Jackson carried the ball four times for 12 yards.