Callaway loses instant classic to Fitzgerald in the state quarterfinals

Published 11:40 pm Friday, November 24, 2023

It was a heartbreaking conclusion to the 2023 season for the Callaway Cavaliers on Black Friday as they lost 17-14 to Fitzgerald in a rematch of the 2020 state championship game.

It was a stinging defeat for a team that had championship aspirations coming into the game.

“That was two great football teams out there and you don’t want to see either of them come up short,” Callaway coach Pete Wiggins said. “They have built a strong program under coach (Tucker) Pruitt and you have to give them credit.”

The game truly came down to the wire as the Cavaliers had a chance to tie the game or take the lead when they approached the red zone with under two minutes to play. Unfortunately for the home faithful, DeShun Coleman’s pass to Treyonn Tucker was intercepted in the end zone and the Hurricanes were able to get into victory formation and end the game.

It was the final pass in the legendary career for Coleman, who started three straight seasons at quarterback for the Cavaliers.

He will not be the only Cavalier that will have to be replaced as this year’s senior class consists of 18 players.

“I’m really proud of all 18 of our seniors, they put in the work throughout the year even when things got hard and didn’t go our way,” Wiggins said. “They have been a great example for Callaway football.

“Any time you put so much into something and come up short, it hurts. You can see how much it hurts these guys. I love these guys.”

It was a game of missed chances for the Cavaliers. The first missed chance was in the first quarter when the Cavaliers fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line. The Hurricanes promptly marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead.

The Cavaliers responded just a couple of minutes later, tying the game at 7 apiece on a 1-yard touchdown run from Tyren Buggs.

The Cavaliers were eventually able to take their first lead of the game when Coleman connected with Tucker for a 40-yard touchdown pass on the first play after their defense forced a fumble and jumped on the loose ball.

Despite the loss, Tucker was a spark for the Cavalier offense.

Another missed chance came late in the first half when an interception by the Cavaliers’ defense was wiped out by a pass interference call that left Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard fuming as it looked like the receiver slipped coming out of his route.

The Hurricanes hit a 25-yard field goal to cut the Callaway lead to 14-10 at the break.

Perhaps the biggest missed chance in the game came after Callaway drove deep into Fitzgerald’s territory on the opening drive of the second half as the team looked for breathing room, but the drive stalled out after two costly penalties.

“We had some turnovers and penalties that really hurt us and changed the momentum,” Wiggins said. “Anytime you’re in a big game there are plays that change momentum and those went against us tonight.”

The Hurricanes would eventually make Callaway pay for its missed chances when they scored on a short rushing touchdown with just seconds to go in the third quarter, sapping the energy out of a packed Callaway Stadium.

The Cavaliers had a big unforced error in the fourth quarter when a snap sailed over senior punter Greyson Batchelor, who was eventually able to dive on the ball which led to a turnover on downs.

The defense bailed out the special teams and offense by making a goal-line stand, but it was all for not as the Cavalier offense could not find the pivotal tying or winning score.

“I feel like we played well enough to win tonight,” Wiggins said. “Right up until the end I felt like we played well enough to win, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounces.”

The defense did its part all game. D’Arcy Harris came down with a big interception in the first half, but the offense was not able to capitalize and ended up punting on the ensuing possession.

Most teams would lose 18 seniors and be staring down the barrel of a rebuild, but the Cavaliers will reload and come back strong in 2024. This class is the final graduating class that helped the team log the first state championship in program history in 2020.