Callaway, Heard County renew rivalry
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Callaway Cavaliers know they’re going to be in the state playoffs for the 15th consecutive season.
What the Cavaliers don’t know is whether they’ll be on the road or at home for the first round of the playoffs, and that will be determined on Friday when they renew their annual rivalry with the Heard County Braves in the ninth Pulpwood Classic.
Heading into the final day of the regular season, Callaway, Heard County and Haralson County are
tied for first place in Region 5-AA with 2-1 records.
While Callaway and Heard County will meet at Callaway Stadium, Haralson County closes its regular season at Bremen.
If Callaway beats Heard County, it will finish no lower than second in the region, meaning it will be at home next week for the opening round of the state playoffs.
For Callaway to win the region title, it needs to beat Heard County, and have Haralson County lose to Bremen.
If Callaway and Haralson County both win on Friday, then Callaway will be the number two seed, and it will host a playoff game.
If Callaway loses to Heard County, it will drop to number three in the region, and it will be on the road next week.
Beyond the playoff implications, this is an intense rivalry that dates back to when Callaway High opened in 1996.
Callaway owns a 13-9 edge in the all-time series, and Wiggins is 8-7 against Heard County since he became the head coach in 2005.
Before Callaway opened, Hogansville and Heard County were rivals, and Hogansville had a 16-7 lead in that series.
“I have so much respect for coach (Tim) Barron and his staff, and just the competitions we’ve had over the years. Callaway and Heard have always been really great ballgames,” Wiggins said. “It’s physical, and fast, a lot of emotions, and regardless of the team’s records, it’s going to be a tough ballgame.”
A constant in the rivalry since 2005 has been the two men leading the programs.
Barron, who has a 162-89 career record, has been Heard County’s head coach since 2002, and he led the program to a state championship in 2018.
Wiggins, after spending three seasons as an assistant under Claude Giddens, became Callaway’s head coach in 2005, and he has a 144-48 record.
With Wiggins in charge, the Cavaliers have been one of the state’s most consistently successful programs.
The Cavaliers have won at least one state-playoff game every year but one since 2008, and they reached the semifinals in 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The Cavaliers have also won seven region championships under Wiggins, and they’ll have a chance to make it eight on Friday night.
“The Heard game is a big game for our community, and for our school, but it’s the next game,” Wiggins said. “We have to go out and play well, and hopefully we can play the brand of ball we want to Friday night, and good things will happen.”
Callaway’s quest for a region title hit a road block when it lost to Haralson County 36-29 on Nov. 10.
Four days later, in a game with major playoff implications, Callaway traveled to Temple and secured a 41-20 victory.
“It was a battle for four quarters,” Wiggins said. “Temple, they hung tough and played hard, and it was a tough ballgame for four quarters. I felt like we were able to create some explosive plays defensively that ultimately changed momentum with a pick six. Offensively, we wanted to run the ball, and we stayed the course, and I think we established that up front. I was really proud of our kids for their effort on a short week against a really good football team.”
The pick six Wiggins referenced came in the fourth quarter with Callaway clinging to a seven-point lead.
After a turnover, Temple had the ball deep in Callaway territory trailing 27-20.
Parks picked off a pass and raced 90 yards for the touchdown, and Charlie Dixon capped a monster night with a touchdown run to put the game on ice.
Dixon, a senior whose season was slowed by a turf-toe injury, had 27 carries for a career-high 211 yards with four touchdown runs.
Another one of Callaway’s senior standouts, Jalin Shephard, caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Demetrius Coleman when he went up and snatched the ball away from a pair of Bremen defenders.
Since the running game was working so effectively, Coleman didn’t throw much, but he did complete a pair of passes for 29 yards while also running for 20 yards on three attempts.
“Last week was a difficult stretch, playing Haralson on Tuesday, and we didn’t perform like we felt we should,” Wiggins said. “We made mistakes and came up short in that game. We turned around and played Temple, which has a really good football team, just like Haralson. Both teams are well-coached with good players. I was really proud of our kids for the execution, and just the mental toughness to go and compete against a really good football team in Temple Saturday night.”
Defensively, senior Austin Thomas led the defensive effort with 13 tackles including one for loss, and he also played the entire game on offense as an offensive lineman.
Senior linebacker LaQuize Gilbert added 12 tackles, including two for loss, and Parks had eight tackles with the critical interception.
Keshawn Suggs, a senior defensive lineman, had six tackles with two sacks, and he also broke up two passes.
Heard County began its region schedule with a 34-28 overtime loss to Temple, but it bounced backed to beat Haralson County 26-12 and Bremen 21-14 to move into position to win the region crown.
Running back Ashton Bonner has had a big season for the Braves, and he ran for 137 yards in last week’s win over Temple.
Quarterback Maurice French has also had a successful, and newcomer Chief Borders has been one of his favorite targets in the passing game while also leading the way defensively from his linebacker position.
Another key player for Heard County is linebacker Tyler Lasseter, who had 16 tackles and two sacks against Bremen.
“The schools are close, there’s a lot of tradition between Heard and Callaway, so we’re looking forward to that matchup, looking forward to the competition Friday night,” Wiggins said.
CALLAWAY VS. HEARD COUNTY
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Callaway Stadium
RECORDS: Callaway (6-1 overall, 2-1 in Region 5-AA); Heard County (6-3 overall, 2-1 in Region 5-AA)