Callaway 39, South Atlanta 22

High school football

Credit: For the AJC

caption arrowCaption
High school football

Credit: For the AJC

Defending state champions have advanced to the Class 2A semifinals for the fourth straight season

In the nine seasons prior to the arrival of Pete Wiggins at Callaway in 2005, the Cavaliers advanced to the state playoffs five times but never played beyond the first round. In the 17 seasons since then, Callaway, the defending Class 2A champions, has failed to advance to the post season just once (Wiggins’ first season), has made it to Round Two or better 13 times, and has made six consecutive trips to at least the quarterfinals.

This tradition and experience manifested itself Friday in Atlanta, as the Cavaliers (10-2) remained patient, made adjustments at halftime and eventually wore down a young and talented squad from South Atlanta, 39-22, to advance to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive season and the fifth time out of the last six.

“When you get into the playoffs, every time is good,” Wiggins said. “I kept telling our players let’s keep doing what we do and get to the fourth quarter. Our kids did that tonight against a really good team and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Callaway outscored South Atlanta (11-2) 25-0 in the second half as the Cavalier defense pitched a shutout in the final two quarters, holding down one of the classification’s most potent ground games that is led by one of the state’s best running backs in Hornet junior Keyjuan Brown, the Region 6-AA Player of the Year.

“Our coaches did a great job and made some adjustments, and our defensive group was able to have some success against a really talented team with one of the best players we’ve seen all year,” Wiggins said of Brown, one of just two backs in Georgia to go over 2,000 yards this season. “[South Atlanta] Coach [Michael] Woolridge is doing a great job and I’m just proud of the fact that we were able to get this win tonight.”

The teams’ offenses had their way early as South Atlanta led 16-14 midway through the second quarter, courtesy of a 7-yard run by quarterback James Lawton and a 40-yard touchdown pass from Lawton to James Ferrell and two conversion runs. Callaway countered with a 30-yard touchdown run by Kier Jackson and a 35-yard touchdown pass from Deshun Coleman to Cameron Tucker.

Facing third-and-seven at the Callaway 27-yard line. Brown and the Hornet offense struck again. A backpedaling Lawton drew the Cavalier rush to him before he lofted a screen pass in the middle of the field to Brown who did the rest by breaking two tackles on his way to the endzone. Callaway kept Brown out of the endzone on the conversion run attempt, but South Atlanta had pushed its lead to 22-14.

Callway’s offense responded on the ensuing possession, moving to the South Atlanta 25-yard line after a 36-yard catch and run on a screen pass from Coleman to Jackson, and eventually to the Hornet’s 10-yard line. But the South Atlanta defense held and took its 22-14 lead into halftime.

After the break, Callaway scored on four consecutive possessions. The Cavaliers went three-and-out on their first possession but followed that with a 25-yard field goal by Blake Eubanks and a 3-yard touchdown run by Amarion Truitt to take a 25-22 lead into the fourth quarter after Carlos Billingslea’s 2-point conversion run.

Jackson’s 3-yard touchdown run pushed the Cavalier lead to 32-22 midway through the period. Then Callaway put the game away when Karmelo Burton picked off a pass in the endzone, and two plays into the Cavalier’s possession, Truitt dashed 76 yards for a touchdown.

It was the first loss in more than three months for a South Atlanta squad that had won 11 straight and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

“I’m so proud of my guys,” said Woolridge, in just his first season leading the Hornet program. “They made some great adjustments at halftime, but nobody expected us to be here. I told our guys they have no reason to hang their heads. We have 20 starters coming back, so now we’ll get into the weight room and come back stronger next year.”

Callaway will face the Thomasville-Rabun County winner in next week’s semifinals.