Callaway hangs on against Pepperell, moves on to second round of playoffs

Published 11:04 pm Friday, November 12, 2021

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Callaway looked like it might roll early during its first-round AA playoff matchup against Pepperell on Friday, but the Cavaliers soon found themselves in a one-possession game.

Needing a big stop, the Cavaliers defense made the plays, preserving a 29-22 victory and set up a second-round playoff matchup against Bleckley County.

“It was a tough game throughout, and I’m proud of our guys for sticking to what we do and getting the win,” said Callaway Head Coach Pete Wiggins.

Pepperell had flipped all the momentum in the third quarter following a rare missed field goal by Cavaliers kicker Blake Eubanks. On the next play, DJ Rogers ran 80 yards around left end to put Pepperell in the end zone, pulling the Dragons within 21-15.

Callaway answered right back with a 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback DeShun Coleman to Carlos Billingslea, who beat the defense down the sideline for the score. Sam Williams caught a two-point conversion and with 1:27 left in the third quarter, the Cavaliers had all the points they’d need.

“Any time you can make explosive plays and change the momentum it’s really special, and I felt like that was obviously an explosive play that put more points on the board, so it was good stuff for us,” Wiggins said.

But it still wasn’t easy.

As they had all night, the Dragons came right back. Facing a third and eight, Rogers caught a screen pass, cut into the open field and took off, racing down the visitors’ sideline for an 82-yard score. A made extra point made it 29-22 Callaway with 11:43 left.

After the Cavaliers had to punt, the pressure was on Callaway’s defense to make a big stop.

Pepperell drove to the Callaway 29-yard line in the closing minutes, but Matthew Waddell’s fourth down pass was incomplete with 3:16 left.

“Coach Hubbard had great play calling, putting our kids in great situations,” Wiggins said of his defense. “We have a lot of things that we’ve got to do better, but I was proud of our guys for a playoff win.”

On the next drive, the Cavaliers faced two third-and-two plays, needing to convert them to run out the clock. Quay Whitfield ran to convert one first down. JT Burks caught a short pass from Coleman to convert the other, allowing Callaway to run out the clock.

For most of the first half, it didn’t look like the Cavaliers would find themselves in a close game.

Amarion Truitt started with the game with a 30-yard run on the Cavaliers first play of the game, and it helped set the tempo for the remainder of the first quarter. Whitfield finished off an impressive opening drive with a 30-yard rushing touchdown where he juked several tacklers to put Callaway up 7-0 with 7:34 left in the first quarter.

Toward the end of the first quarter, Truitt had another impact play. He ran 51 yards, completely flipping the field for the Cavaliers to put Callaway back in scoring range.

The Cavaliers moved into the red zone but faced a third-and nine. Coleman threw a third down pass to Williams for 8 yards, setting Callaway up with a fourth and one. On the next play, Whitfield ran right up the middle for 11 yards for a touchdown, making the score 14-0 Cavaliers.

Pepperell went three and out on its next possession, though it had a decision to make from near the 40-yard line. On fourth and two, the Dragons decided to punt the ball rather than go for it.

The Cavaliers marched right back down the field. Coleman ran to his right only to reverse field and run all the way down to the Dragons 5-yard line on an incredible run of 46 yards. Two penalties on Pepperell — an unsportsmanlike conduct and a personal foul — moved the ball to the 2-yard-line.

Kier Jackson scored from there, making the lead 21-0 Callaway.

However, the game started to flip in the final minutes of the first half.

On the ensuing, possession, Waddell threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Skylar Dempsey on fourth down to pull the Dragons within 21-6. The two-point conversion attempt was good, making the score 21-8.

Pepperell almost got even closer before the half. On its next possession, Callaway was traveling right down the field — crossing midfield — but a poor snap gave Pepperell the ball back after the Dragons recovered the fumble.

Pepperell moved into scoring range, but missed a 39-yard field goal with a few seconds left in the half, keeping the score at 21-8.

After Pepperell scored to pull within six in the third quarter, the game was back and forth for most of the second half before Callaway hung on.

The Cavaliers will take on Bleckley after the Royals stayed unbeaten by rallying from 16-0 down to defeat Early County on Friday night.