• 52°

Callaway seniors leave in style

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

They left their mark.

The seniors on the Callaway High football team ended their high-school careers in fine style last week with a 22-17 victory over Fitzgerald in the state-championship game.

The 17 seniors on the team helped Callaway amass a four-year record of 46-9, and they were a part of two final-four teams, as well as a championship team.

Many of the seniors were teammates long before they arrived in high school, having spent time together on the recreation football fields in Troup County.

“We were talking about (winning a title) in the ninth grade,” said Lathan Patterson, a senior offensive and defensive lineman. “When it finally happened, it was just amazing. Most of us play rec ball together, and we won a championship. We said at the beginning of the year, it was our year.”

Senior linebacker LaQuize Gilbert is a three-year starter, and he was on the field in 2018 and 2019 when Callaway’s season ended with heart-breaking losses in the state semifinals.

“Losing like that two years in a row, it made us every hungrier,” Gilbert said. “We wanted it. Because of Covid we didn’t even know if we’d make it here, and that made it better, too. That gave us more motivation to get this trophy, to get this state championship.”

Another one of the seniors, defensive lineman Caden Prather, knew it was critical during a challenging year to continue to push forward, no matter what obstacles were placed in the way.

“I think this year has been the craziest year, with all the Coronavirus stuff,” Prather said. “We pushed through all the adversity. That’s the main thing we talk about is pushing through it, and we come here, and we win it. It’s special.”

Head coach Pete Wiggins often refers to the leadership shown by this senior class, and he echoed that sentiment once again following Tuesday’s 22-17 win over Fitzgerald in the title game.

“I’m so proud of our seniors,” Wiggins said. “I’m so proud of the leadership that they’ve displayed throughout a year filled with ups and downs. They’ve remained focused. At practice, we went to work each day to get better. I think we did that. I think we got better each day in the playoffs trying to reach that goal of the state-championship game.”

The seniors are  Chauncey Bradford, Austin Thomas, Lathan Patterson, LaQuize Gilbert, Caden Prather LaDarrious Williams, Taylor Smith, Demetrius Coleman, Juarez Patterson, Keshawn Suggs, Charlie Dixon, Osiris Rivas, Jalin Shephard, Tyler Battle, Marvize Moss, and Matthew Martin.

NO EASY PATH: It’s never easy winning a state title, but Callaway’s path to the title was a particularly arduous one.

When the Class AA playoff bracket was unveiled, it became obvious how difficult Callaway’s journey would be.

There was a possibility Callaway would have to beat the top four teams in the AJC’s Class AA poll to win the title, and that’s how it played out.

After winning by forfeit over Banks County in the first round, Callaway beat fourth-ranked Lovett 16-9 in the first round.

In the third round of the playoffs, Callaway beat third-ranked Thomasville 34-21, and it eased past second-ranked Rabun County 41-17 in the semifinals.

The semifinal win set up a showdown with top-ranked Fitzgerald in the championship game, and Callaway won 22-17 to secure the program’s first state title.

MAKING PLAYS: Considering his track record, it was no surprise that LaQuize Gilbert was Callaway’s leading tackler in the championship game against Fitzgerald.

Gilbert led the Cavaliers in tackles in each of the three previous state-playoff, and he led the way once again in the title game.

Gilbert had a team-leading 12 tackles against Jefferson, and he had 63 tackles in the four playoff games combined.

Gilbert finished the year with more than 150 tackles in 13 games.