If this had been a college game, ESPN would be replaying it sometime this week. And probably more than once.

But with Calhoun’s crazy-good 49-42 victory over Ware County in the second round of the 5A GHSA state playoffs being a high school game, it won’t be played over and over and over again.

Except maybe in the hearts and minds of those who played in it and watched it.

But it was an all-time classic with five ties, three lead changes, and nothing settled until the final seconds.

It was one of those games where it definitely appeared the last team with the ball would win and that’s exactly what happened with the Jackets able to run out the clock after Ware County fumbled away an opportunity to tie it up at 49 on a big hit caused by outside linebacker Christopher Lewis and free safety Gage Leonard with just 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“I was so proud of our players,” Calhoun head football coach Clay Stephenson said. “We knew it was going to a be a four-quarter football game and when we fell behind by two touchdowns there in the second quarter, it didn’t faze them. And it didn’t faze the coaches. We all knew what we had to do and we were able to do it and get back in it. And the key to us was staying in the game and being right there when the fourth quarter started. And when it started it was tied at 28 so we felt like at that point, we definitely had a chance and the kids went out and got the job done and finished the game.”

The Jackets would strike first on the night with senior speedster Cole Speer taking the opening kickoff back 55 yards to the Ware County 39-yard-line. Using the pass and the run, they needed six plays to get into the end zone with a two-yard touchdown run by sophomore Caden Williams giving them a 6-0 advantage with 9:52 left in the first quarter. Sergio Sanchez then drilled the first of the seven extra-point kicks he would made and the team from Gordon County led 7-0.

A 17-yard pass from quarterback Christian Lewis to senior wide receiver Quin Smith was the big play in that drive.

Ware County would come back to score the next three touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead, getting into the end zone on the Gators’ first three drives of the first half.

The first was a seven-play, 61-yard drive capped off by a 14-yard touchdown run by WC quarterback Thomas Castellanos to knot the game at seven.

The second was a seven-play, 88-yard drive that was finished with an 11-yard touchdown run. The extra point put Ware up 14-7 with 15.6 seconds remaining in the first.

Their third score came after Calhoun had to give the ball up on downs at its own 35 four minutes into the second stanza. Needing just seven plays, the Gators moved 65 yards with a three-yard touchdown run boosting their lead to 21-7 with 6:39 left until halftime.

But going to the air because they needed to catch up, Calhoun’s Lewis found senior Brendan Gray for an 11-yard gain, Smith for a 24-yard reception, and then Speer on a 45-yard touchdown catch-and-run, cutting the deficit to 21-14. where it remained at halftime.

Just before halftime, the Yellow Jackets hit on a big pass play and looked like they were going to score, but the ball was knocked loose and recovered by the green-and-gold to keep the host school in front at the break.

The Jackets opened the second half with a squib kick that Ware County didn’t field and junior Caleb Ray recovered to put his team at the Ware County 37.

Using first a 22-yard pass to Speer, the Jackets tied the game at 21 on a Smith 15-yard sweep around the left side with just under 10 minutes showing in the third period.

The Jackets then tried another short kickoff, but WC handled this one and started with great field position at its own 46. Eight plays later, aided by a fourth down conversion at the Calhoun 42, the Gators regained the lead on a Castellanos nine-yard run.

But the team from Region 7 answered with a touchdown drive of their own. Snapping the ball 13 times and getting to a fourth-and-goal at the Ware County nine, the Jackets tied it up at 28 on a Lewis touchdown pass to Peyton Law. After another PAT, the game was deadlocked at 28 with 2:48 left in the third quarter.

Ware County took back the lead on its next drive, scoring the go-ahead touchdown to go in front 35-28 with 10:25 remaining in the game. Again taking a short kick, the Gators went 48 yards on eight plays to take its last lead of the night.

At that point, Ware County decided to give Calhoun a dose of its own medicine with a short kickoff but the Jackets recovered it without problems to start at midfield.

After an incomplete pass and then a 4-yard snatch by Gray, the Yellow Jackets connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to Smith to tie the game again, this time at 35.

Ware County appeared ready to score and retake control, but after reaching the two-yard-line of Calhoun on a long run, a 25-yard markoff in the form of holding and taunting penalties pushed them back near midfield and they had to give the ball up.

That’s when Calhoun took its first lead in over two hours of real time, coming back with a five-play, 75-yard drive of its own.

First, Lewis found freshman tight end Amaree Winston for a 22-yard hookup and then he went to Speer for 15 more.

After a false start, Lewis threw to his brother Christopher Lewis for 11 more and then Williams broke off a nine-yard gain before Christian Lewis went 22 yards on the quarterback keeper for the go-ahead score. Sanchez added another PAT and Calhoun was on top, 42-35, with 5:52 on the clock.

That Ware County offense went back work with a seven-play, 63-yard drive that saw Castellanos tie it at 42 with his third rushing touchdown of the game at the 4:07 mark.

But that was enough time for the Jacket offense to do its job and score again, which is exactly what they did.

Starting at their own 20 and relying heavily on the sophomore Williams’ running, they moved 80 yards on 11 plays for the game-winner.

Lewis picked up the first first down of the drive with his legs, running 19 yards on a third-and-six at the Calhoun 24.

Then he completed a 13-yard pass to Gray and a big 31-yarder to his brother to set the Jackets up at the Ware County 17 as the clock reached the two-minute mark. At that point, Williams carried four straight times, including a two-yard burst on a fourth-and-inches at the Ware County 4, that Calhoun made to kill the timer with just 1:47 showing. But Ware County let Calhoun score what would be the game-winner on the next play because the Gators had to get the ball back.

“We definitely could have kicked a field goal there and we talked about it, but I am a big believer as a coach, in ‘trust your offense, trust your defense’,” Stephenson said. “And I felt like in that situation, that if we get the first down, they didn’t have any timeouts left and we could just let the clock wind down and then kick the field goal if we needed too. We were wanting to run the clock out and not leave them any time, but they went ahead and let us score and we had to go back out there and get one more stop, which we were fortunately able to do.”

Indeed, they were able to do it, but it wasn’t easy as, thanks to 27-yard pass and then a 21-yard run by Castellanos, they got inside the Calhoun five as the clock rolled under 30 seconds to go. But on a third-and-goal from the Calhoun 2, the defense forced the loose ball and the celebration began

“It was one of those games where we just kept fighting and kept battling and we were to come away with it,” Stephenson said. “It was one of those all-time great Georgia high school playoff games.”

And it was, to anyone who watched it or listened to it, a definite all-time classic.


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