By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
November 25, 2013
I’ve never met a football coach who minded working on Thanksgiving.
If you’re on the field this week, if you’re practicing on Thanksgiving, that means you’re part of a select group of teams that are still a part of the state playoffs.
Thanksgiving has fallen at different points in the playoffs over the years.
Last season, it came during the second round, and Callaway and LaGrange were both still around.
This year, Thanksgiving arrives as teams across the state are preparing for third-round match-ups.
Locally, the Callaway Cavaliers are the only team still standing.
Callaway has won both of its playoff games, and that means a busy week of practice during Thanksgiving week, and the coaches and players are thrilled to be out there.
“We’re excited about it,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said following Friday’s win over Pierce County. “Hopefully we can do a big meal (on Thanksgiving), and enjoy the whole week.”
A year ago, after the Thanksgiving practice, the team enjoyed a meal together.
While practice was going on, a group of parents were busy preparing the Thanksgiving feast.
Wiggins figures it’s a natural thing to do since he considers the football team to be “a big family.”
“All of these kids love one another,” Wiggins said. “Obviously there’s adversity like with anything, but they’re a tight-knit group. It’s a real special group of kids.”
This is the second time a Callaway football team has been practicing for a quarterfinal match-up.
The only other time Callaway made it to the third round was in 2009 when it lost to Fitzgerald 35-21.
If the Cavaliers can get past St. Pius this week, they’ll find themselves in a place they’ve never been before, the state semifinals.
It has already been a historic season for Callaway.
The Cavaliers (11-1) have set a school record for wins, surpassing the 10-win total they had in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
“I’m really proud of our kids, proud of the Callaway community,” Wiggins said.
No one is satisfied, though.
The Cavaliers feel like they have what it takes to run the table, to bring home the big trophy, and they’re one of just eight teams out of the original 32 with a chance to make that happen.
Of course the seven other remaining teams are also confident, and a few of those teams know what it’s like to hoist the championship trophy.
The final eight in Class AAA is a who’s who of football in Georgia.
Three of the remaining teams, Buford, Carver and Washington County, have won state championships in recent years, and Central-Carroll also has a state title to its credit.
Buford is in a league of its own.
Since 2001, Buford has won eight state championships, and it has been in contention for a few more.
Buford won four straight titles from 2007 to 2010, and after losing to Calhoun in the 2011 championship game, the Wolves were back on top a year ago.
So that’s five championships in six years, and only an overtime loss to Calhoun kept the Wolves from making it six in a row.
This year’s Buford team is 12-0 and has outscored teams by an average score of 51-6.
In two playoff games, the Wolves have scored 98 points, and given up seven.
Buford is the prohibitive favorite to win it all, but it’s far from a sure thing.
Buford’s opponent this week, Carver, is no stranger to big-time playoff games.
And if Buford gets past Carver, it could have to play the Cavaliers in the semifinals.
Of course before Callaway can think about Buford, it will have to beat St. Pius this week, and that’s no cakewalk.
Although St. Pius has lost three games, it is a battle-hardened team that knows what it takes to win this time of year.
St. Pius made it all the way through to the Class AAA title game a year ago, and it pushed Buford to the limit before losing 10-3.
The Class AAA quarterfinal field also includes a Central-Carroll team that finished second to Callaway in Region 4-AAA and has put together a couple of terrific playoff performances.
Central-Carroll can reach the semifinals with a victory over a Ringgold team that had to survive a 55-54 thriller (that is football, not basketball) with North Hall in the first round.
In the other quarterfinal showdown, Washington County has been a machine this season, wearing out everyone if faces, but Blessed Trinity has won both of its playoff games with ease.
It’s an intriguing mix of teams, and it should be a riveting three weeks, leading up to the championship game in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 13.
WHAT A NIGHT: Hats off to Heard County’s Duranta Dunson, who delivered a phenomenal individual performance in last week’s playoff game against Jefferson.
In a thrilling game where both offenses did whatever they pleased, Heard County lost to Jefferson 61-57.
When the game was done, reports surfaced that Dunson had run for more than 500 yards, which would have been a state record.
After a review of the film, though, Dunson was given 463 yards, still an amazing effort, but just a little short of the all-time record set in 1999 by Miller County’s Don Calloway.
“I have done our stats off our film and two others have also and what we came up with is 28 carries for 463 and five touchdowns and also had 10 tackles at free safety and played every play,” Heard assistant coach D.J. Curbow said in a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think our head coach was going to try to get Jefferson’s film to make sure we didn’t leave off a play, but these are the official (Heard County) stats.”
Regardless, it was a magnificent effort for Dunson, and the fact that he was in the game for every snap just adds to the legendary status of his feat.
“I don’t know how his body held up. It’s amazing. You know, I’ll coach probably 20-some years and I would assume that I’ll never see a performance like that in a ballgame,” Heard County coach Tim Barron said after Friday’s game.
Dunson finished the season with 2,193 yards and 39 touchdowns, and he averaged more than 14 yards per carry.
Dunson also had more than 100 tackles on defense.
For his career, Dunson has more than 5,000 yards, and he broke the school previously held by Dontavius Jackson.
Unfortunately for Dunson, his Herculean effort last week didn’t result in a win, but it will still be a night folks in Franklin will be talking about for a long, long time.