CALHOUN, Ga. - As a standout defensive lineman, Austin Byrd's first rule is to follow the football. The 6-foot-3 Calhoun High School senior takes that same mentality to the basketball court, and it paid off big-time Tuesday night.
Byrd's putback of Kaelen Riley's miss with one second to play lifted the Yellow Jackets to a 65-63 win over Region 7-AA rival Dade County, inching the them one step closer to a state tournament berth. The win keeps Calhoun (18-2, 12-2) in second place, and one win in its remaining two games would secure at least the runner-up regular-season finish and a bye into the region tournament semifinals, where the Jackets also would be locked into the state field.
With the score tied after Dade's Nic Gaddis hit one of two free throws with 59 seconds to play, Calhoun coach Vince Layson called time out to set up the final play.
"We stalled it out for one shot," said Layson, who put the ball in sophomore guard Riley's hands for the final play. "They had been playing zone the whole game and we felt they would come out and get us, which would allow Kaelen to work one-on-one. We dribbled-drive into the lane, got the shot up and got a little help."
Byrd grabbed the miss and managed to bank in the game-winner amid protests from the Wolverines' bench that an over-the-back call had been missed. Regardless, Byrd, who is signing today to continue his football career at Kennesaw State University, was in the right spot at the right time.
"I saw Kaelen drive and he shot it up," Byrd said. "I always crash the boards and was fortunate to get the putback. This is really big for us because one more win bumps us into the state."
Dade (15-8, 8-7), which defeated Calhoun in four overtimes earlier in the season, trailed by as many as 10 in the final period, but guards Clynt Bell (22 points) and Gaddis (18) led a furious comeback to a 62-61 lead on Mikey Williams' putback of his own miss with 1:18 to play.
Byrd, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the final quarter, hit two free throws to put Calhoun back ahead, with Gaddis tying it moments later with a free throw, setting up the final dramatics.
"We'd go up six or seven and they would come right back," Layson said. "They're a tough team and it seems you can never put them away. We made some big shots and we definitely got a big rebound when we needed it."
Riley added 14 points, Chandler Curtis 13 and Keyth Fightmaster 11 for the Jackets.
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