After playing to a 21-all tie in the first half, the defenses took over. Neither team scored until 2:05 remained in the game, and that only happened because of a big play by the Warriors’ Blace Brown.
On fourth-and-5 from the Etowah 36, quarterback Spencer Ashley found Brown along the sidelines. The senior receiver didn’t settle for the first down, leaping over a would-be tackler and dashing for the 36-yard touchdown. The point after by Gary Dubiel put the Warriors (4-3, 2-2 Region 5AAAAAA) up 28-21.
Etowah (6-1, 3-1) picked up a couple of first downs on its final possession, but it was unable to move the ball past midfield before turning the ball over on downs.
Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said it was a big win, not just in terms of county bragging rights or the region standings. Etowah had won the last five meetings between the schools and 13 of the last 14.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” said Shaw, a former Etowah assistant. “I don’t know. Words can’t describe it. These kids have come such a long way. I’m so proud of them. We haven’t had a lot of wins recently, so every win is big for us.
“Now, we are half-way to the playoffs. We are excited about that, but we have also beat every team in the county that we have played, and that was a goal for us.”
Early in the game, it appeared as though Friday’s game was in store for being a high-scoring shootout. Despite fumbling away its first possession of the game, Cherokee led 21-7 midway through the second quarter.
Running back Blake Johnston had scored on a 60-yard run, which gave Cherokee a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Ashley threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to Jordan Freeman and 27 yards to Brown.
Etowah used a high-powered offensive of its own to score 14 unanswered points and tie the game at 21-all. Raidshod Devezin rushed for 137 yards in the first half, including a 74-yard touchdown run. Keith Gordon, who scored on a 13-yard run in the first quarter, reached the end zone just before halftime on a 7-yard run.
The offenses combined for 42 points and more than 500 yards of offense in the first half. Johnston ran for 96 yards on four carries in the first half, while Ashley was 16-for-24 passing for 242 yards.
The second half was a very different story.
Johnston was held to negative yards on four of his next six rushing attempts and had a net gain of just 6 yards in the second half. Ashley was just 2-of-11 passing and finished the game 18-for-35 passing for 289 yards.
Brown led all receivers with six catches for 125 yards, but just one reception came in the second half. Andrew Harris caught five passes for 75 yards, all in the first half.
The story wasn’t any better for Etowah. Quarterback John Oliver was 2-for-8 passing with an interception in the second half. Devezin added only 30 rushing yards.
“We had negative-yardage plays. We dropped the ball, which gave us some long-yardage situations,” Etowah coach Dave Svehla said. “We haven’t been in a lot of those situations much this year and we didn’t adapt well to it. Field possession killed us.”
Etowah fumbled the ball three times, including twice in the second half. While it was able to maintain possession of the ball, it took a loss of at least 7 yards each time.
The Eagles took the loss hard.
“I’m just disappointed in myself for not better preparing my team,” Svehla said. “I give a ton of credit to Cherokee. Their defense played their butts off and, offensively, they made plays when they needed to make them, and we didn’t. We just didn’t execute like I think we should have, and a lot of that falls back on me.”
The loss dropped Etowah into a three-way tie for the region lead with Lassiter and Walton — both of which the Eagles must still play following next week’s game with archrival Woodstock.