CALEDONIA — Twice, the Caledonia defense was asked to come up with key stops while backed up early in the fourth quarter, and twice, the Cavaliers held on fourth-down attempts.
The Cavs had struggled earlier in the game to slow down the Louisville offense, but a touchdown by the offense late in the third quarter gave the team new life. With a chance to make it a game late the offense twice got the ball, but twice Louisville forced fumbles and sealed the game.
The defensive showdown delayed the Wildcats (12-1) from putting the game out of reach, but in the end they got the job done, winning a heated 35-14 contest on the road against the Cavaliers (6-7) in the MHSAA Class 4A quarterfinals.
“It’s a tough message to your team, especially your seniors going out because they’ve given a lot to our football program, but we played a really good football team tonight, and let’s face it we just didn’t play very well,” Caledonia coach Michael Kelly said after the loss. “We turned it over four times, and you can’t do that in these kinds of games, and defensively I thought we played up and down, with mountains and valleys, and you can’t play like that.”
Kelly was right in his evaluation of the offensive performance, but he was still proud of the effort his team put in after a difficult regular season. The Cavs responded down the stretch to get back to winning and got two playoff wins as well. It’s the kind of fight he wants to see from his program and the kind of work teams need to do to maintain a winning mentality and belief.
“They’re resilient,” he said of his team. “We’ve got great kids out there. They’ve been through a lot, the upperclassmen and lowerclassmen, but I’m proud of where we are as a program. We didn’t get it done tonight, but it’s not going to define us as a program. We’ll bounce back. The sun is going to come up tomorrow. Our young kids now understand, it’s two years in a row that we’ve been here. They know what it takes, and it was a darn good football team on the other side of the field.”
The Cavaliers got a taste of success in 2021, a memorable campaign with only one regular-season loss. It took some work to get going, but they made a run again this year, and the younger kids are learning what it takes to make a playoff run and compete in big games. That’s important in building a winning program, but it’s important as well for the seniors as they look back.
Feeling the pain of losing the last game of the season, the emotion on the field after a playoff loss is hard to handle. The Cavaliers seniors showed their pride in their accomplishments however. Wyatt Enger, a senior and leader on the defensive line, was emotional reflecting on his time with the team, but proud of the work he did with the program.
“Overall, I’m extremely proud of my boys. They’re family, and we play our hearts out on every play,” Enger said of his teammates. “I love them so much, and I wish I could play another year with them. We’ve overcome so many things, and we’ve shocked a lot of people. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Senior quarterback Daniel Wilburn Jr. shared his teammate’s sentiment and was proud of the efforts of his team over the season regardless of the result on the night.
“I feel great because after last year we’ve been written off,” he said. “Of course we didn’t get off to a good start this year, but we proved ourselves and got us this far. We couldn’t get it done tonight, but that’s on us. They are a great team too, but I’m still glad we shook it off and proved ourselves again, even if we didn’t go as far as we could have.”
There was a sense of feeling disrespected, and the quarterback made it clear that despite the losses this team proved to themselves how good they were by making the playoffs and making a run to the third round.
“Everybody talked about us like we’re not up to what we used to be, not up to last year,” Wilburn said. “But I’m glad we gave ourselves a shot. We got into the dance and were able to do what we did from there.”
The win for Louisville sends them to the north half final, where the Wildcats face Houston for a bid in the MHSAA Class 4A title game.
Louisville 35, Caledonia 14
Louisville (12-1) 7 14 7 7 — 35
Caledonia (6-7) 7 0 7 0 — 14
C — Karsten Gullette 5 run (Reed Frady kick), clock 9:50
L — Keyarrion Jackson 18 run (Ceidrick Hunt kick), clock 3:46
L — Jaden Triplett 25 pass from Jackson (Hunt kick), clock 11:01
L — Swahili Earby 18 pass from Jackson (Hunt kick), clock 1:05
L — Kendon Sanders 6 run (Hunt kick), clock 9:52
C — Zack Gorum 11 pass from Daniel Wilburn Jr. (Frady kick), clock 1:20
L — Jackson 1 run (Hunt kick), clock 0:56
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