CALEDONIA — The bandwagon is getting crowded.
Anyone who still didn’t believe the Caledonia High School football team was for real after a 27-8 win over Pontotoc in the second round of the playoffs is taking notice now, after the Cavaliers used the big play in the first half, sustained drives in the second half and a ferocious defense all night to post an impressive 27-7 win over Louisville in the MHSAA Class 4A quarterfinals Friday night.
That defense set the tone early. On their second possession, the Wildcats had fourth down and a distance short enough to have required a measurement after the previous play, but quarterback Jace Hudspeth was smothered by Caledonia defenders for a turnover on downs.
Hudspeth came into the game with 1,953 yards passing and 312 yards rushing; on Friday night, he had one positive rushing gain and was picked off three times.
“I thought defensively all week we prepared really well,” Caledonia coach Michael Kelly said. “We get after people. We don’t look the part, but they’re gritty. They love playing defense. They love getting hit. You can’t ask much more.”
Senior Kewon Wyatt made the big plays during the first half, taking a pitch 70 yards for the Cavs’ first touchdown and getting open over the middle, taking a Daniel Wilburn Jr. pass and racing 75 yards on the first play of the second quarter. As it turned out, those 13 points would have been enough.
In reality, the Cavaliers’ offense was just getting started. The big plays masked the fact Caledonia couldn’t do much against the Louisville defense during the first half, punting twice, fumbling and turning over the ball on downs on their other four possessions.
The fumble appeared critical at the time; it came at the Cavs’ 19-yard line, and Louisville needed two plays to cash in and make it a 13-7 game.
But the game changed radically after halftime, at least when the Cavs had the ball. Suddenly, there were holes to be found in the Wildcats’ defense, and a team that ran 22 plays during the entire first half put together a 14-play, 76-yard drive to start the second, capped by a 1-yard keeper by Wilburn. The drive took 9 minutes, 10 seconds off of the clock.
“We went and made a few adjustments to their alignment on defense,” Kelly said. “They gave us a little different look than we prepared for all week.”
Senior Darrius Triplett, who made two of the interceptions against Hudspeth, put it more bluntly: “We went in, saw everything that was wrong and fixed it.”
The Cavs weren’t done, marching 59 yards on their next possession — highlighted by back-to-back runs of 22 yards by Wilburn and 17 yards by Curtavis Johnson — but missed a 30-yard field goal.
Undaunted, they got the ball back on a Wyatt interception and went 52 yards on 12 plays to take a commanding 27-7 lead.
“I thought we were able to soften them up in the middle a little bit,” Kelly said. “We take pride in our offensive line. You know we’re going to bang that rock a little bit, and we were able to do that to sustain those drives.”
That drive reflected the game itself. Louisville played solid defense for most of it, allowing 3 or fewer yards nine times. Caledonia made the big plays, a 23-yard pass from Wilburn to Wyatt — the only pass Wilburn threw other than the early touchdown — and a 13-yard keeper to set up first-and-goal at the Wildcats’ 5.
Then there were the offsides calls. The Wildcats were flagged four times on that drive for jumping early, twice giving the Cavs a first down. Johnson’s 2-yard touchdown with 2:44 left was almost anti-climactic.
As if getting to a round of the playoffs the school’s football team never reached wasn’t enough motivation, Triplett said there was more.
“We were very confident, plus we had to get revenge for last year,” he said, remembering the Wildcats’ 26-13 win over the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs in 2020. That loss gave Caledonia an 0-6 all-time record in the postseason; they are 3-0 in the playoffs since.
“We’re definitely not going to stop,” Triplett said. With two games to go before a first state title — the Cavs have not won a region title in their 65 years of football, but winning a state title first seems fitting for this year’s team.
Next up is Senatobia, which will be making the trip to Caledonia on Friday night. The Warriors routed Itawamba Agricultural 45-6 on Friday night, rolling past the only team to defeat Caledonia on the field this season.
Don’t expect the Cavs to be too worried about that, and their confidence starts building long before Friday nights.
“I could tell because of the way we were practicing,” Triplett said. “We know what we’re doing, and we’re ready to go.”
“We’re playing football here in Caledonia now, and these young men love it,” Kelly said. “We’re doing our best to build a program.”
Caledonia 27, Louisville 7
Louisville (10-3) 0 7 0 0 — 7
Caledonia (11-2) 6 7 7 7 — 27
C — Kewon Wyatt 70 run (kick failed), 5:58
C — Wyatt 75 pass from Daniel Wilburn (Reed Frady klck), 11:47
L — Jacoery Coleman 8 run (Ceidrick Hunt kick), 7:41
C — Wilburn 1 run (Frady kick), 2:50
C — Curtavis Johnson 2 run (Frady kick), 2:44