Second-year coach Grant Chesnut saw a lot from his Lions (4-3, 3-1 Region 4-AAA), as they played very well against a quality opponent, falling just short.
"No. 1, we've got a good football team. Our kids have gotten better each week as the year's gone on. As a coach, that's all I can ask for. I am so proud of these kids. I'm proud of our seniors and the leadership they are providing this team right now," Chesnut said.
It came down to turnovers, as each team took advantage of the other's mistakes. Central opened the scoring as a fumbled snap on the first Callaway drive of the game led to a 55-yard drive for the Lions. The big play was a 42-yard pass from Wesley Long to Jacob Barnes to get Central to the two-yard line, where Curtis Davenport took it into the end zone on the next play to go up 7-0.
The Cavaliers (5-1, 3-0) seemed to have the game tied up on a 42-yard pass play on their next drive, but the play was negated due to a holding penalty. Two Callaway punts and a Lion punt later, Central had the ball facing a third-and-six when Callaway's Terry Godwin came up with not only the interception, but returned it 55 yards for the game-tying touchdown as the score remained 7-all going into halftime.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Lions marched 53 yards down the field, but the drive stalled on the 12-yard line and Central had to settle for a 28-yard Tyler Obukuro field goal, which split the uprights and gave the Lions the 10-7 lead.
Through the remainder of the third quarter, the Central defense stood tall, forcing a turnover on downs and a punt. But on its first drive of the fourth quarter, Callaway finally got something going. Going 69 yards in 10 rushing plays, the Cavalier offense found the end zone for the first — and only — time of the ball game when quarterback Tez Parks pushed it in from the one-yard line for the 14-10 lead.
The Lions would threaten on their last drive, but a Wilson Lindsey interception and return put the game away. Callaway ran two more plays, then took two knees to run the clock out and take the game.
Chesnut also took some of the blame for the loss on Friday night. The Central coach thought back to a fourth-and-one, where his team took the delay of game penalty and punted, and the third-and-seven play the interception was thrown on as a situation where they could have tried two running plays to get the first down. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't do the same thing if given the same situation again.
"I apologized to them because there were a couple calls late that I thought I was doing the right thing, but it came back to haunt us. I told them I've got to do a better job of protecting our kids because they are playing their rear ends off for us. I'm as blessed as I can be to be coaching these guys," Chesnut said. "As a coach and a perfectionist as I am, that's what I'm going to do."
The Central defense held a high-powered Callaway offense to just seven points offensively and 212 total offense yards. Parks rushed for 53 yards and the touchdown, while throwing for 36 yards on 2-of-6 passing. Aside from his interception, the defense also held Godwin to negative-three yards rushing and just one catch for 14 yards.
While it was in a losing effort, the Central coach was proud of the way his defense played.
"There's no question they have four players, three of which are Division I athletes. For our defense to come out here and play the way they did [Friday], it shows a lot of maturity on their part. Again, it shows they are continuing to improve. We just can't hang our heads. We've got to keep working," Chesnut said.
Offensively, it was Jayleen Terry leading the way for Central, picking up 147 of the Lions' 251 total yards on 29 carries.
The focus heading into next week won't be on the loss, or even how good the defense played in the loss, but it will be on to the next game. The Lions travel to Rockmart, which is coming off a tough loss of its own — a 36-34 double-overtime setback against Haralson County on Friday night.
"One day at a time. Any mistakes we see on film [Saturday] when we watch with the team we'll want to get out on Monday and address those. Most of all, on Monday, we want to be focused on Rockmart and not worry about anything but Rockmart. That's the most important game because it's the next one," Chesnut said.