Photo: Sardis High’s Chase Bright runs after a catch as Cherokee County’s Jawaun Hood hangs on during the Lions’ 21-14 loss in the first round of the Class 4A state football playoffs on Nov. 10 in Sardis City. (Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter)
By Chris McCarthy
Sardis High did not have an answer for Cherokee County’s Tyren Dupree in the second half of the Lions’ Class 4A first round playoff game on Nov. 10, and it cost the Lions their season.
The Warriors’ senior quarterback ran for 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns over the final 24 minutes to lead fourth-seeded CCHS to a 21-14 victory at Sardis City and end the No. 1 seeded Lions’ year at 7-4.
Cherokee County (5-6) hosts Wilson this week in the second round.
The Sardis offense struggled over the last two quarters, as the Lions managed just 87 yards and three first downs.
With the game tied at 7-7 at halftime, Cherokee County drove 76 yards in seven plays on the opening possession of the second half and took a 14-7 lead on Dupree’s 10-yard touchdown run and Gustav Jensen’s PAT.
The Lions gained 10 yards and went three-and-out on their first two series of the third quarter. The visitors struck again later in the period when Dupree ran for an 18-yard touchdown on a fourth-down and-2. Jensen’s pushed through the extra point to put Sardis in a 14-point deficit at 1:06.
The Lions finally responded on their next series. Starting at its 35, Sardis used 10 plays to get to the CCHS 35, where on a third and 3 quarterback Logan Gaskin connected with receiver Jake Scott for a 34-yard completion to the Warrior 1.
Gaskin bulled into the end zone on the next play, and Javin Smith nailed the PAT to draw the Lions within 21-14 at the 9:09 mark of the fourth.
After an exchange of punts Cherokee County was driving in Lion territory when Tristen Holcomb recovered a CCHS fumble at the Lion 43 with 3:20 left in the game. The ensuing possession began slowly with minus-4 yards in three plays and Sardis faced a fourth-and-14.
The Lions elected to go for it, and the decision paid dividends when Gaskin hit Jake Ross for a 16-yard gain.
A 5-yard run by Mason Golden brought the ball to the CCHS 40, but with 49 seconds remaining Dupree intercepted a pass that effectively secured the win.
The Warriors finished with a 290 to 265 advantage in total yards, including 274 to 123 on the ground.
“I felt that we should have been up more in the first half, and they got us on the outside run and the jet sweep and we couldn’t get the ball into the end zone as much as we needed to,” said Sardis head coach Gene Hill. “[Cherokee County] had a great football team and did what they had to do to win the ball game. We knew going into the game that [Dupree] was a great athlete, and he took over. He’s hard to tackle and he out-athleted us sometimes.”
Dupree finished with 122 rushing yards on 21 carries. He also completed 2 of 8 passes for 15 yards.
For the game, Gaskin completed 8-of-22 passes for 142 yards. He also ran for 58 yards on 18 carries. Jamal Wilson paced the Lion ground game with 65 yards on 15 attempts. Chase Bright had four receptions for 81 yards.
Sardis opened the game with a 13-play, 79-yard drive that took off over half of the first quarter, but the possession stalled out at the Warrior 26 on a failed four down conversion attempt.
But Cherokee went three-and-out on its first series, and the Lions put together a 10-play, 76-yard possession that was capped by Gaskin’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Ross with 43 seconds left in the initial period. Smith pushed through the PAT for a 7-0 lead.
With Sardis inside the CCHS 20 midway through the second quarter, the Warriors held on another fourth down conversion attempt. Runs of 31, 11 and 10 yards by Kendrick Fife helped put the visitors at the Sardis 6, from where Fife polished off the drive with a touchdown run that tied the game with 3:20 left before intermission.
The Lions final drive of the first half ended on Julian Latty’s interception at the CCHS 30.
Fife rushed for 105 yards on 15 carries.
“You go back when we were 0-2 and the season [could have] gone downhill, and this bunch stepped it up and beat a Madison Academy team (in Week 3) and won seven out of the last eight [games],” said Hill. “This game does not define our season, and that’s what ‘m going to tell our kids in a few minutes.”