Spencer Ashley’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Harris with 5 seconds remaining capped a frantic fourth-quarter comeback, after the Warriors trailed by as much as 15 in a matchup between two upstart programs gunning for a playoff spot in the tightly packed Region 5AAAAAA.
“Our kids never quit, and it’s been like that all year,” Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said. “I don’t ever feel like we’re out of a game, and that’s because of them and their character and how much we fought back.”
Ashley, who entered Friday’s action as the leading passer in Class AAAAAA, threw for 234 yards to bring his season total to 2,004. He went 7-for-10 for 57 yards on the game-winning drive.
“The offense, in general, had a rough first half, but they came through when they needed to,” Shaw said. “(Ashley) is a big-time player that makes big-time plays, and he does it at crucial moments. He’s got some intangibles that you can’t coach. He’s got a moxie about him. He’s just cool as a cucumber. He doesn’t get rattled in those situations.”
Cherokee (5-3, 3-2) kept itself in position for its first state playoff berth in six years, which it can ensure with a win in one of its final two games with Milton and Wheeler. The Warriors are in a three-way tie for third place in the region with Milton and Walton, which they lost to Sept. 27.
The Warriors’ scuffling second-half offense received new life in the form of a personal foul penalty that prevented a fifth straight possession without a first down.
Sophomore running back Brittain Brown leaped for the pylon to cap off a nine-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown run with just under 8 minutes to play.
His brother, junior wideout Blace Brown, pulled in a jump ball with just over 3 minutes left to bring the
Warriors within two, but the potential game-tying 2- point conversion attempt came up well short.
As Cherokee entered field-goal range on its final drive, Shaw rolled the dice with two shots into the end zone, and Ashley’s second attempt eliminated the need for any more special teams adventures on a back-and-forth night.
After a high snap and a missed field goal squandered Roswell’s first two possessions, the Hornets (4-4, 2-3) capitalized off the Warriors’ kicking game woes early in the second quarter when Colton Rozanske punted the ball into the back of his own player. Mechane Slade’s 4- yard plunge on the first play of the ensuing drive gave the Hornets their first points of the game and sparked a 19-
point second quarter.
After a Cherokee three-and-out, Slade struck again, bouncing to the outside for a 49-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. Slade added a 29- yard scamper to the end zone in the third to make the Warriors pay for a muffed punt by Harris.
But in the fourth quarter, Roswell came up short on a handful of opportunities to pad its lead and keep clock-killing drives alive, and Harris beat his man to the back-left corner of the end zone in the final seconds to atone for his earlier issues with ball security.
“We weren’t moving the ball offensively like we needed to, and we kept putting our defense back
out there,” Roswell coach John Ford said.
Special teams miscues and sloppy ball control forced the Warriors to play from behind, but Brittain
Brown’s 69-yard kickoff return to begin the second half helped set up the first of Ashley’s two touchdown passes to Harris.
The Warriors earned their first three-game win streak since 2009, and with the program undertaking
multiple significant renovations to its football facilities this offseason, there was hardly a second thought about letting the student body extend its raucous celebration onto the natural grass field hosting its final game.