Callaway Cavaliers at Heard County Braves
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Staples Stadium, Franklin
Records, rankings: Callaway is 6-0 overall, 1-0 in Region 5-AA and No. 5; Heard County is 5-1, 1-0 and No. 10.
Last meeting: Callaway won 24-14 in 2016.
Watch the game: Online at NFHS Network.
Things to know: These are the front-runners in 5-AA, although Spencer (4-2, 1-0) is a factor. Callaway, the defending region champion, has won 25 consecutive games in the regular season, 11 straight in region play. Heard won region titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Few Class AA games will have this many college prospects. Heard County QB Emory Jones, an Ohio State commit, is 52-of-84 passing for 1,033 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception. He threw for 338 yards in his last game, a win over Temple. His top receivers are Alijah Huzzie (20-385-3) and Jaden Moreland (13-333-3). Aaron Beasley has rushed for 754 yards and 13 touchdowns. Beasley has several mid-major Division I offers, primarily as a safety. Callaway has four major Division I recruits - DB/RB Cartavious "Tank" Bigsby (four-star sophomore), DL Lichon Terrell (Western Kentucky), WR/DB Courtney Williams (Cincinnati) and OL Keiondre Jones (four-star junior). Callaway also has a returning 2,000-yard rusher, D.J. Atkins, though he's less feature back and more committee chairman this season. Atkins (467 rushing yards), Bigsby (392 rushing) and Qua Hines (457 all-purpose) make Callaway harder to defend. QB Kedrick Ramsey is 33-of-61 passing for 573 yards and five touchdowns and has 150 yards rushing.
Maxwell's projection: Callaway by 6
*Game capsule courtesy of GHSFD
What's known as the Pulpwood Classic will resume this Friday when the No. 5 Callaway Cavaliers travel to play the No. 10 Heard County Braves in a game that could very well determine who wins Region 5. It will be the 20th meeting between the two teams since Callaway replaced Hogansville High in 1996, and the Cavs have had possession of the pulpwood trophy since 2013, enjoying a four-game win streak.
Heard County played the Hogansville Green Wave 23 times from 1974-95, with the Green Wave compiling a 16-7 record. Since Callaway came into existence, it owns a 12-7 record against the Braves.
History lessons aside, this game figures to be as competitive as the previous two meetings, which Callaway won 24-14 last year and 17-14 in 2015. Maxwell's projections again give the edge to the Cavs, calculating them to be a six-point favorite. If they live up to the billing it will be their 26th consecutive regular season win.
The Cavs are coming off a 48-7 win over Lamar County in their region opener.
"I feel like, right now, we're playing well," said Cavs coach Pete Wiggins, who took over the program in 2005. "Our non-region schedule has been a difficult one — we played four AAAA schools and a AAAAA school — and that's helped us prepare for the region."
Callaway opened the season with a pair of shutouts over AAAA's LaGrange (26-0) and Handley of Roanoke, Alabama (35-0) — at the time Handley was the Alabama Sports Writers Association's No. 1 team in AAAA. From there, the Cavs beat Columbus (44-13) and Upson-Lee (40-20) of AAAA and AAAAA's Harris County (28-27) before taking on Lamar County last Thursday.
The Harris County nail-biter was a turning point for this year's team, Wiggins said.
"That was a great win for us," he said. "We got down a couple of times and faced adversity and the kids found a way to win. That was important, because not every game is going to go like you want it to, but when the kids find a way to make plays in big situations, that's what separates football teams."
The Cavs run their offense out of a pro I-formation, establishing the run early to mix in the play-action. They're led by running backs D.J. Atkins, Tank Bigsby and Qua Hines, who run behind a strong offensive line led by returning starters John Curtis, Jalen Moss and Lawrence Thompson. Tight end Travis Traylor and receivers Jacob Freeman, DQ Wilkerson and Courtney Williams are threats in the passing game.
The Callaway defense — led by linebackers Jonathan Leonard and Tely Fanning, tackle Lichon Terrell and defensive backs Williams, Wilkerson, Hines, Kobe Jackson — will be tasked with the job of limiting one of the country's better dual-threat quarterbacks in Heard County's Emory Jones, a senior committed to Ohio State.
Jones has the Braves off to a 5-1 start including a 35-14 win over Temple in their region opener on Sept. 22. Jones has a dynamic playmaking ability that has naturally attracted some of the country's best college programs, but despite his dual-threat status, his coach Tim Barron views him as a traditional quarterback.
"A lot of people across the country categorize him as a dual-threat, but to me he's a pro-set pocket passer who happens to be a great athlete," said Barron, in his 16th season leading the Braves. "He can pick up first downs with his legs if he needs to, but when you watch him throw, the ball comes out different than most. He spins it well and in the screen game, he gets the receiver the ball with time to make things happen. It gets there in a hurry. He's got extraordinary arm strength."
The Braves also base their offense out of the I-formation and weapons, aside from Jones, include receiver Jaden Moreland and running back Aaron Beasley. On defense, they're led by linebackers Andrew Leak, tackle Kezmann Kelley and Moreland and Beasley in the secondary.
It's possible the Braves have to shake off rust initially on Friday given they haven't played in two weeks. Barron attributed the extra time off to balancing the non-region schedule with suitable opponents.
"It was a challenge keeping them motivated," Barron said of the consecutive bye weeks.
Barron knows the Braves will have their hands full against the Cavs.
"They can beat you in so many different ways," he said. "A special teams score, a defensive score. They have these 6-8 minute periods where they create turnovers and then capitalize off them. They're explosive. You have to play them tough and if you make a mistake, you're going to pay for it.
Wiggins expects a good game.
"I think it will be a physical game as it always is," Wiggins said. "The team with the fewest mistakes will have the greater advantage and we have to execute and stick to our game plan of running the ball. It will be a great atmosphere and a great challenge with two great teams that have tradition. It should be fun."
Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.