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Callaway Shows Some Playoff Grit

Cavaliers Take Down Screven County, 35-34

All season long the Cavaliers have been doing the unlikely, the improbable and the out of the ordinary.

That scenario came home to roost one more time as Callaway High School beat the Screven County Gamecocks, 35-34 on Friday night in Sylvania. On this night in South Georgia in the state football quarterfinals, Callaway was presented with 10 deficits.

The Cavaliers won the game despite it all. Callaway High is the ultimate comeback team. The Cavaliers should be. They are a fourquarter team.

“We fought. We have so much heart, and our offensive line played great. We are moving closer and closer to a (state championship) ring,” said Callaway High senior quarterback Dylan Johnson.

Thanks to No. 4, Callaway High did get out of Kelly Memorial Stadium with new life and a 13-0 record. Johnson had the game of his prep career with 11 completions out of 19 passing attempts for 296 yards and three touchdowns.

All three of those Cavalier touchdown passes came after the intermission. Callaway High was on the short end of a 14-3 halftime score. Twice in the second half, the Cavaliers were behind by two scores.

Still they kept the faith. The Cavaliers kept pushing and grinding even when it looked the most bleak. Screven County, the No. 5 team in Georgia in Class AA, took a 28-16 lead on an Armani Bunbury 56-yard touchdown pass to Tyquan Johnson with 1:06 left in the third quarter.

Bunbury, the junior quarterback, gave Screven County another double-digit advantage of 34-23 with 5:54 left in the fourth period as well. Bunbury tossed the ball to Gamecock senior tight end Lewis Wallace. He bobbled the ball and then re-caught it for a 13-yard touchdown reception. Screven County was in control of this state playoff game.

“We felt like we had it. We thought we were the better team. We’re a pounding team. We play hard and don’t give up,” said Gamecock junior fullback C.J. Wright (18 carries for 127 yards, two touchdowns).

Wright is on the recruiting radar at Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Southern. But Wright was not thinking about his future on this night. No. 21 was fixated on the dilemma at hand – trying to defeat a playoff-tough football team from Callaway High School.

It didn’t happen for Screven County (11-2) and its well-rounded offense. The Gamecocks had some pretty awesome numbers with 15 first downs and 405 yards (285 running and 120 passing). But the team from Hogansville had the last say so in this state quarterfinal contest.

It was down to football cases for the Cavaliers with an 11-point deficit with less than five minutes left. But Callaway High worked the plan. The Cavaliers took the game, scoring twice in the final four minutes and 15 seconds.

“We showed a lot of character, and we left everything on the field,” said Callaway High head football coach Pete Wiggins.

On their final two offensive drives of the night the Cavaliers dug a little deeper. They ran fast, and they threw the ball accurately. Callaway High protected Dylan Johnson, too.

Johnson and Cavalier senior wide receiver Braylon Sanders stood their ground and made some game-winning plays. Johnson and Sanders gave their team some late night energy from the ground floor at Kelly Memorial Stadium. There were 3,000 paying customers in the playoff ball yard.

Johnson first cut the Gamecock lead to 34-29 with a 64-yard touchdown pass to Sanders at the 4:15 mark of the fourth stanza. Johnson and Sanders weren’t done, and this Callaway football season was not over.

Sanders and Johnson burned the Gamecock defensive secondary just one more time. With just 17.5 seconds left in the game, Johnson shot the ball to Sanders, who did the rest with a 43-yard catch and run for the winning touchdown.

Callaway High led for the first time in the game with less than a minute left. And, yes, Sanders could believe it, all the way to the endzone. The Cavaliers were on top to stay at 35-34.

“The atmosphere was crazy, and we never gave up. No one was going to deny me. This was all about execution,” said Sanders, who caught two passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns in just the last 4:15 of this state quarterfinal feud.

Screven County got what they didn’t really expect – a state playoff loss.

“We had a great season, but we did not finish. Callaway has a lot of weapons, and we needed to make some (more) tackles,” said Gamecock head coach Ron Duncan.

Another Cavalier who was doing some grinding was junior running back D.J. Atkins. He was juking, sliding and muscling for 154 yards on 24 carries. Callaway High junior split end D.Q. Wilkerson made a muchneeded play for the Cavaliers, too, with a 63-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers will play No. 1-ranked Benedictine this Friday, Dec. 2 in the state semifinals in Savannah. The fourth round playoff game will commence at 7:30 p.m.

Chris Fernsler Sports Writer