Coleman powers Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Rabun County had momentum on its side.
After the Callaway Cavaliers built a 14-0 lead in last week’s semifinal game at Callaway Stadium, Rabun County scored on back-to-back possessions to cut its deficit to 14-10.
The Cavaliers got the ball late in the first half having come up empty on their previous few possessions, and they were staring at third down when Coleman delivered one of the plays of the game.
Coleman kept the ball and found a hole, and he beat the Rabun County defense for a 64-yard touchdown, and Callaway led 20-10 with 2:36 left in the first half.
The Cavaliers didn’t look back.
Callaway eventually built a 41-10 lead, and Rabun County didn’t score again until it managed a meaningless touchdown with less than a minute to play.
Coleman did his part to help make sure the Cavaliers won 41-17 and advancde to the state-championship game for the first time in the history of the program.
Callaway will play Fitzgerald in the Class AA title game on Tuesday in Atlanta, with kickoff set for noon at Center Parc Stadium.
Against Rabun County, Coleman ran for 112 yards on just seven carries, and while he only completed three passes, they went for a total of 90 yards, and he had a 49-yard scoring pass to tight end Sam Williams.
Coleman also completed a 44-yard pass to tight end Keshawn Suggs on a play that earned national attention when it appeared as one of the plays of the night on Sports Center.
Suggs, despite being interfered with, caught the ball after it bounced off his feet, and that play set up a Charlie Dixon touchdown run.
With the defense doing its part to slow down a Rabun County attack led by future South Carolina quarterback Gunner Stockton, the Callaway offense stepped up and had a big night as well, with Coleman leading the way.
“We had to get the offense capitalizing on what our defense was doing, and we finally did that,” Coleman said. “The offense played great, the whole offense did.”
Coleman has beaten teams mostly with his throwing arm this season, although he has been an effective runner at times.
Coleman has run for 400 yards on 75 carries this season, and more than 25 percent of that rushing total came in the Rabun County game.
“Demetrius is a quarterback who can run,” said Callaway offensive coordinator Zach Giddens. “It’s one of those deals where early in the year, we wanted to be kind of careful and not run him too much. He’s such an asset. Now there’s nothing to lose. He’s even more of a threat this time of year. So why not?”
Another critical cog in the offensive machine is Charlie Dixon, a senior running back who has been slicing through opposing defenses in the playoffs.
Dixon torched Rabun County for 188 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns, and he has 535 yards and eight touchdowns in three playoff games.
Dixon put an exclamation mark on his big night with a 76-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, giving Callaway a 41-10 lead.
Dixon had modest numbers at the half, and getting him going was a focal part of the second-half strategy.
“Before we came out for halftime, our coach said we’ve got to get that running game established,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, it’s over and done with. We got the running game established and it was over.”
STARTING WITH A BANG: Jalin Shephard has been an impact player all season, and he came through with another big-time play against Rabun County.
Rabun County was driving on its opening possession when Shephard intercepted a pass, and he raced 70 yards for the touchdown.
That gave the Cavaliers a lead they would have for the rest of the night.
“It was really big,” Shephard said of his interception. “It was a huge momentum swing. They had to think about their play-calling after that.”
It was Shephard’s 11th touchdown of the season.
Shephard has nine receiving touchdowns, he returned a kickoff for a score, and now he has a pick six.
DEFENSIVE LEADERS: Another playoff game, another monster effort for senior linebacker LaQuize Gilbert.
Gilbert had 15 tackles, including two for loss with a sack, in last week’s 41-17 victory over Rabun County.
Gilbert has 51 tackles in three playoff games, and that includes a 20-tackle performance against Thomasville.
Senior linebacker Austin Thomas, who’d missed the previous four games with an injury, made his return to the lineup and had eight tackles with one for loss.
Safety Jarvis Parks had seven tackles and a fumble recovery, and it was his tipped pass that led to Jalin Shephard’s interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
It was, Gilbert stressed, a team effort on defense.
“We always want to gang tackle and surround the ball,” Gilbert said. “That causes turnovers, and we don’t give up extra yards.”