4 Questions with Calhoun head coach Clay Stephenson

Calhoun players run onto the field before their game against Peach County during the Class AAA Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, December 8, 2017, in Atlanta.
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Calhoun players run onto the field before their game against Peach County during the Class AAA Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, December 8, 2017, in Atlanta.

Today’s interviewee is Calhoun coach Clay Stephenson, whose team defeated No. 3 Ware County 49-42 in a Class 5A second-round game last week. There were five ties and six lead changes in the game between top-10 teams. Stephenson became Calhoun’s head coach in 2019 after spending the previous 15 seasons as an assistant coach to Hal Lamb.

Clay Stephenson, Calhoun head coach

1. Did you expect a game like that? Why did it become what it did? “We knew it was probably going to be a shootout because their quarterback [Thomas Castellanos] is so talented. He can beat you from the pocket, and when the pocket breaks down, he can beat you running or throwing. They put him in a lot of good spots. We didn’t expect that many points in the second half, but it came down to whoever had the ball last was going to win. And that was us with 12 seconds to go. It was a state champion-caliber game. They’re a great, great program. We hated to have to play them in the second round. They’re a state championship or final four team. It was the same way with Warner Robins and Cartersville. Two of us were lucky enough to win.”

2. What happened in the final couple of minutes? “We scored to go up seven with under two minutes left. They let us score. They were out of timeouts, and it was first and goal on the 4-yard line. We debated taking a few knees and kicking a field goal. We could’ve let the clock bleed down. But at the end of the day, you have to depend on your defense to keep them from scoring. They got the ball back. The quarterback made one play after another. He scrambled and hit a receiver and picked up 30 yards on a third-and-8. Then he got a run inside the 5 and then spiked the ball. They were in a tough spot with no timeouts. They threw one pass, and it was incomplete. Then they ran the quarterback and fumbled. It was going to be a nail-biter [to get the next play off] whether he fumbled or not. But two guys converged to hit him, and Dustin Kerns recovered. Everybody went crazy. It was such a hard-fought game on both sides.”

3. The road trip from Calhoun to Waycross was more than 300 miles. What was your day like before and after the game? “It was tough. But you really have to embrace it and not dread it. There’s a lot of planning. You’ve got to feed 100 people four times – breakfast, lunch, pregame and postgame meal. The buses pulled out at 8:20 in the morning. We’re trying to stop places along the way. We stopped in Forsyth on the way down to stretch our legs and actually got out some corn-hole boards and tossed the ball around for about an hour. Then we ended up going to a church in Tifton and did our walk through and pregame meal there [still 70 miles from Waycross]. We returned at 4:45 Saturday morning. Our coaches’ heads hit the pillow about the time the sun was coming up.”

4. How does this game and experience stack up to some of the others that Calhoun has played over the years? “It was very memorable. It’s an awesome stadium and atmosphere. But we can’t dwell on that. We have to move on. We’ve got to make sure we don’t spend all week reminiscing about last week. It’s just a second-round game, and we’ve got a lot of football ahead. That’s going to be the message at practice – Get ready for Clarke Central. We can bask in it after the season.”

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