HANDLEY, Ala. – The Callaway Cavaliers delivered a dominant, impressive second-half performance on the way to a 42-28 road win over Handley (Ala.) on Friday night.
The Cavaliers trailed by two touchdowns in the first half, and they were still behind by seven points in the fourth quarter, but they scored 21 straight points to end the game.
Callaway outscored Handley 28-7 in the second half, and the only points it gave up in the final two quarters came on a fumble return.
Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins felt his team’s conditioning and depth played in its favor in the decisive second half.
“They played more guys both ways than we do, and we saw that,” Wiggins said on his Saturday-morning radio show. “We’re trying to play some younger kids, and play fewer guys both ways. We felt like that would weigh in our favor as the game went on, and it did. I feel like we may have had fresher legs in the fourth quarter, and we kept telling our kids, let’s get to the fourth quarter, let’s get to the fourth quarter. As the game went on, I felt like that our kids were fighting harder.”
Quarterback Dylan Johnson had a big night.
Johnson threw a touchdown pass, he caught one, and he also had a scoring run.
Braylon Sanders threw the touchdown pass to Johnson on a trick play, and the senior receiver also had a long scoring catch.
In the running game, fullback Jibrell Jackson had two touchdown runs, and Cartavious Bigsby had a long scoring run that put the game on ice in the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Handley claimed a 28-21 lead on a 31-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Tyrese Heard.
It didn’t take the Cavaliers long to erase Handley’s lead, though.
On the next play from scrimmage following Handley’s touchdown, Johnson threw a 73-yard scoring pass to Sanders, and Noah Stephens made the extra point to tie it at 28-28.
Callaway took the lead with less than nine minutes left in the game on Jackson’s second touchdown run of the day.
The Cavaliers had a chance to all but salt the game away on their next two possessions, but they turned the ball over two straight times in Handley territory.
The second of those turnovers came with Callaway inside of the Handley 5-yard line.
After a failed fourth-down play by Handley near midfield, Callaway finally put it away.
Bigsby came through with a 53-yard touchdown run, and Stephens’ sixth and final extra point capped the scoring.
“It was a great ballgame last night between two good football teams,” Wiggins said. “Our kids, I couldn’t be happier with their effort, and just keeping their heads up and (staying) focused, and just playing physical.”
As strong as the Callaway offense was, the defense did its part as well.
Handley took a 21-6 lead in the second quarter on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Rhett Fetner to Jay Brown, but its offense didn’t score again.
“Our defense, we kept running to the ball,” Wiggins said. “We gave up a couple of plays here or there, but throughout the game they kept running to the ball, and playing physical. As the game wore on, you could see a confidence on our side of the ball, that just we’ve got this. Coach (Dusty) Hubbard did a phenomenal job calling plays. I’m just really proud of those kids.”
Callaway’s offense, meanwhile, got better as the game went along.
Wiggins said the key was “sticking with the game plan, and being consistent, and as the game wore on, I felt like we wore on them.
“The 3-yard gains, turned into 6-yard gains, turned into eight, and 10 and 12-yard gains as the game wore on,” Wiggins added. “And that’s what it’s all about, and that’s our style of football, and that’s what we want. Braylon Sanders had some big catches, and Dylan some great throws to him, under pressure. He took some big shots last night.”
With Handley leading 7-0, Callaway’s DJ Atkins had a long run to the Handley 6-yard line that ended the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Sanders took a pitch, and he threw the ball back to Johnson for the touchdown pass, and it was a 7-6 game after an unsuccessful point-after try.
Handley then scored back-to-back touchdowns to build a 21-6 lead, and Callaway answered with a score late in the half to take some momentum to the locker room.
Bigsby set the Cavaliers up with a long kickoff return into Handley territory, and Johnson had a touchdown run with 90 seconds left in the half.
Atkins had the two-point conversion run, and Handley’s lead was down to 21-14, and that was the score at the half.
In the third quarter, Johnson kept possession for the Cavaliers with a long run on third-and-seven, and Jackson capped the drive with a 7-yard scoring run, and the extra point tied it.
It remained a 21-21 game into the fourth quarter when Handley took the lead with the fumble return for a touchdown.
That’s when the dynamic combo of Johnson and Sanders struck again.
In the season opener against LaGrange, Johnson threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Sanders that broke the game open.
Against Handley, Johnson hooked up with Sanders on a 28-yard scoring pass, and it was tied again.
The Cavaliers controlled the game the rest of the way, and Bigsby put an exclamation point on the victory with his touchdown run in the closing moments.
“Just to see them overcome that adversity and hard times, it’s something special,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got a young football team, and to see them keep grinding, and keep coming together and finding a way to win, that’s pretty dog gone special.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports