Cavaliers begin playoff run
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Following the 2004 season, the football programs at Lovett and Callaway were both searching for new head coaches.
Considering the men who were hired are still on the job 15 years later, it’s pretty obvious both schools made the correct choice.
Wiggins, who took over at Callaway in 2005 after spending three seasons as an assistant under Claude Giddens, has a 146-48 record, and he has guided the team to appearances in the state semifinals four times since 2013.
Mike Muschamp, who was at Savannah Country Day for five seasons before taking over at Lovett in 2005, has a 166-91 career record, and he won a state championship in 2014.
On Friday night, those two powerhouses will meet in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs, with the winner advancing to play Thomasville or Dodge County in the third round.
Callaway and Lovett have played four times before, although never in the playoffs.
They met four consecutive years beginning in 2008, and Lovett had a 3-1 record in those games.
Although they haven’t played since 2011, Wiggins said this Lovett team looks familiar.
“You see how closely they resemble the teams that we saw,” Wiggins said. “That’s just from pure talent, to execution. It’s a great credit to coach Muschamp and the job that he has done and his coaching staff. It’s a really great football team.”
Lovett (7-2 overall), the number three seed from Region 6-AA, beat Pepperell 38-17 in a first-round game last week.
The Lions are averaging more than 30 points per game, and they’ve giving up fewer than 10 points a game.
Freshman quarterback Preston Lusink has thrown for 1,049 yards with 17 touchdowns, and he also has 152 rushing yards with four touchdowns.
Senior Michael Hollingsworth leads a balanced rushing attack with 439 yards, and Colin Goldberg is tops among the receivers with 29 catches for 416 yards and six touchdowns.
“Offensively, they can use the entire field effectively,” Wiggins said. “He’s a tremendous play-caller. Defensively they run to the ball. They’re physical. They’re very athletic. On special teams, they’re really good. That’s such a huge part of the game, and in the games we played them in the past, that really changed a lot of momentum, both for us and for them.”
For Callaway, it has been another exceptional season for a program that has thrived under Wiggins’ leadership.
While the Cavaliers have yet to win the ultimate prize, they’ve been one of the state’s most successfully consistent programs for years.
Since 2008, the Cavaliers have only had one year where they didn’t win at least one state-playoff game, and five times since 2009 they’ve been to the third round or further.
The Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals in 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2019, and they’re still looking to reach the state-championship game for the first time.
While in some ways it has been the status quo this season as far as wins and losses, it has nonetheless been a year unlike any the coaches or players have ever experienced because of Covid-19.
Yet through it all, the game cancelations, the quarantines, the countless complications, the Cavaliers are where they always seem to be, playing late in the season with a lot on the line.
Callaway didn’t play last week since Banks County forfeited the first-round game, so the players have had plenty of time to get prepared for this week’s showdown.
“There’s an energy that I could feel as a coach from the players while we were practicing,” Wiggins said. “They wanted to be there, and that’s a big part of being successful. They have to want to be there. It’s 40 degrees, and the sun’s going down. They have to embrace that.
“It’s a challenge, and I believe that our guys are eager to keep progressing. I think that’s part of being successful, and giving us great opportunities on Friday night.”
Like Lovett, Callaway will bring a high-powered offense into the game.
With senior quarterback Demetrius Coleman leading the way, the Cavaliers are averaging more than 30 points per game.
Coleman moved into the starting lineup in the final game of the 2018 regular season, and he has been at quarterback for every game since then.
In the regular-season finale against Heard County, a 30-17 win, Coleman completed 10-of-14 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
Jalin Shephard, like Coleman a senior and a three-year starter, had three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, and Andrew Locke had the other touchdown.
Senior running back Charlie Dixon has come up big late in the season, running for nearly 400 combined yards in wins over Temple and Heard County.
Against Heard County, Dixon ran for 177 yards on 28 attempts with two touchdowns.
Callaway’s defense has been stingy this season, holding opponents to fewer than 15 points per game.
Senior linebacker LaQuize Gilbert is Callaway’s leading tackler, and he had 13 tackles against Heard County.
Another senior leader on defense is defensive back Osiris Rivas who had an interception in the Heard County game, and junior defensive lineman Trey Stephens had nine tackles with two sacks.
Defensive back Jarvis Parks, who had an interception return for a touchdown against Temple, had an interception and a fumble recovery in the Heard County game.
Jalin Shephard, the leading receiver on offense, also helps anchor the defense from his defensive-back position
Linebacker Austin Thomas has had an exceptional senior season, but he’s out of action at the moment with an injury, although there is hope that he could be back for a later game.
On special teams, Blake Eubanks has been steady all season as the place kicker, and Shephard has gotten the job done at punter.
“That’s a very good football team we’re facing Friday night, but with that said, our kids, they’re excited,” Wiggins said. “We had a great practice today with good energy. They know the quality of team that Lovett is, and they have respect for that. That’s a bit part of being successful on Friday night is respecting your opponent, and our guys do. They’re working really hard, so we’re excited about the opportunity to get to play a great football team Friday night.”
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Callaway Stadium
WHAT: Second round of Class AA state playoffs
RECORDS: Callaway (8-1); Lovett (7-2)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway finished first in Region 5-AA and won by forfeit over Banks County in the first round of the state playoffs; Lovett finished third in Region 6-AA and beat Pepperell 38-17 in the first round of the state playoffs
UP NEXT: Winner plays Thomasville or Dodge County in the third round
ALL-TIME SERIES: Lovett leads Callaway 3-1