Callaway defense faces tough task
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Rabun County isn’t a one-man team, but there is no doubt who stirs the drink.
Junior Gunner Stockton, who has committed to the University of South Carolina, is one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the country, and he has led his team to the semifinals of the Class AA state playoffs.
Rabun County’s opponent is Callaway, and those two teams will face off at Callaway Stadium on Friday night with a berth in the state-championship game on the line.
Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard is well aware of what Stockton brings to the field, and he emphasized that every bit of attention he’s getting is warranted.
“I’d like to sit here and tell you their quarterback’s a little over-rated, but he’s not,” Hubbard said. “He’s as good as advertised.”
Stockton is a legitimate two-way threat.
In 13 games, Stockton has completed 208-of-304 passes for 3,021 yards, and he has 44 touchdowns and only three interceptions, two of which came in last week’s playoff win over Bleckley County.
Stockton is just as dangerous when he tucks the ball away and runs.
Stockton has 167 carries for 1,474 yards with 25 touchdowns, and he had 198 of those yards and three touchdowns against Bleckley County.
Stockton has at least 100 rushing yards in nine games, including his past six.
“His ability to run is what really scares you,” Hubbard said. “It’s not that he likes to scramble and make off-script plays, it’s designed runs that he really does well.”
In short-yardage situations, Stockton is usually the man with the ball in his hands, not one of the running backs.
“They list him at 6-1, 220, but he may be a hair taller than that,” Hubbard said. “He’s real big. He’s strong. He’s their guy on third-and-short and fourth-and-short. He’s going to get the ball, ala Tim Tebow back in the day, and they’re going to look to run him up in there and bang you. He always seems to fall forward.”
Stockton’s running ability and elusiveness also allows him to keep plays alive, and he can get the ball to his receivers, no matter how far downfield the year.
“He just buys time, and he has such a strong arm,” Hubbard said. “When guys get 50 or 60 yards down the field, he can get it to them. He’s going to throw with a different velocity than we’ve seen all year.”
One of Stockton’s best games came against a team Callaway is familiar with.
Bremen, which finished third in Region 5-AA behind Callaway and Heard County, had its hands full with Stockton on Sept. 25.
Stockton threw for 252 yards with three touchdowns while running for 145 yards with four more touchdowns in a 48-34 win.
Against another Region 5-AA team, Haralson County, Stockton threw for 256 yards with two touchdowns, and he ran for 113 yards with two touchdowns in the opening round of the state playoffs.
Game after game Stockton has put up big numbers through the air and on the ground, and the only defense that slowed him down at all was Jefferson’s.
Jefferson, which is unbeaten and has advanced to the semifinals of the Class AAAA state playoffs, limited Stockton to 127 passing yards and 19 rushing yards, and he only had one touchdown in the 28-14 loss.
Outside of that game, Stockton has been unstoppable, but he’ll be tested against a stout Callaway defense on Friday night.
Callaway’s defense has performed at a high level in playoff wins over Lovett and Thomasville.
The Cavaliers had four interceptions in each of those games, including three by Jalin Shephard, two by Osiris Rivas, two by Cameron Smith, and one by LaDarrious Williams.
Also, linebacker LaQuize Gilbert has delivered two memorable peformances.
Gilbert had 16 tackles in a 16-9 win over Lovett, and 20 tackles in a 34-21 victory over Thomasville.
“I think they’re playing really hard, that’s the key,” Hubbard said. “Also, Gilbert has had two unbelievable games the past two games. He pretty much the past two games shut down the running game himself. He’s done such a good job of playing inside.”
CALLAWAY VS. RABUN COUNTY
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Callaway Stadium
WHAT: Semifinals of Class AA state playoffs
ON THE LINE: The winner will play Fitzgerald or Jefferson County in the championship game on Dec. 29
RECORDS: Callaway (10-1); Rabun County (12-1)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway finished first in Region 5-AA and beat Banks County, Lovett and Thomasville in the state playoffs; Rabun County finished first in Region 8-AA and beat Haralson County, Model and Bleckley County in the state playoffs
OF NOTE: This will be the first meeting between Callaway and Rabun County