By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Hokes Bluff High head football coach Mike Robertson is fortunate that he didn’t follow up on his initial reaction last Friday (Nov. 18) after his Eagles found themselves in an early 14-point hole against a Cherokee County squad that was riding a 10-game winning streak.
“I don’t know about y’all, but was ready to go home at that point,” he said with a laugh following the game. “How stupid was that?”
Robertson ended up sticking around for the finish, which turned out to be a 28-21 victory over the Eagles’ Region 5 rivals in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
Robertson and the Eagles rebounded in fine fashion from the above deficit, drawing within 14-7 at intermission and outscoring the hosts 21-7 in the second half.
The victory avenged a 30-7 loss to CCHS in Week 2.
“To do what they just did after we’ve beat beaten here so many times, I can’t say enough about our kids’ resiliency,” said Robertson. “Our defense played super and our offense made some big plays. Once we started running the ball, it opened up room for some passes. Darrian (Meads) had some back spasms at halftime, but he ran the ball well.
“Our [defensive] secondary was tremendous tonight. They hit us with one big play, but [CCHS senior receiver Quartez Henderson] is a darn good player.”
Hokes Bluff (9-4) will host Madison Academy (10-3) this Friday (Nov. 25) for the program’s first state semifinal game in 12 years.
Whatever halftime adjustments were made, the Eagle players paid attention.
On the opening possession of the second half, Hokes Bluff covered 80 yards in eight plays to tie the game at 14-14. A 32-yard pass from Landon Johnson to Peyton Moore set up Fisher Simmons 16-yard touchdown run. Andrew Colley added the PAT.
Matter soon grew much worse for Cherokee County (10-3) when starting quarterback Tyren Dupree left the game with an ankle injury. Dupree had scored both of the Warriors first-half TDs while amassing 185 combined yards in passing and rushing.
“Obviously [Dupree] going out hurt them some, but we had control of the game a little bit at that point,” said Robertson. “I just hope he’s not seriously injured.”
Sophomore Caden Hubbard replaced Hubbard and promptly tossed a 49-yard touchdown pass to Henderson. James Swell’s PAT provided the hosts wit h 21-14 advantage at the 5:14 mark of the third.
The Eagles were force to punt on the ensuing possession, but the ball touched a CCHS player and Simmons covered the ball in Warrior territory. On the next play, Johnson perfectly timed a seam pass to Meads, who took it to the house from 34 yards out. Colley nailed the extra point to the game at 21-21 with 2:51 left in the quarter.
The Eagle defense subsequently forced a three-and-out, and a 36-yard run by Meads put the visitors in business at the CCHS 11. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Johnson and Braydon Hill hooked up for a 6-yard TD pass. Colley added the PAT to give the Eagles the lead for good at 28-21.
Although the next Hokes Bluff series ended with a missed 35-yard field goal, the 13-play, 61-yard possession drained almost seven minutes off the game clock.
Cherokee County managed -1 yard on the following drive, but the Warriors recovered a fumble while the Eagles were attempting to run out the clock. But Johnson’s interception with 1:17 remaining finally put the game out of reach and secured Hokes Bluff’s ninth win in the past 10 games.
Meads rushed for 196 yards on 25 carries. Johnson was 6 for 8 in passing for 100 yards.
The Warriors couldn’t have asked for a better start. On the third play of the game, Dupree weaved through the Eagle defense for a 54-yard touchdown run. Two plays into Hokes Bluff’s second drive, Cherokee County’s Riley Russell tipped and intercepted a pass. A 32-yard Dupree-to-Henderson pass brought the Warriors to the Hokes Bluff 3, where Dupree leaped into the end zone for the score and a 14-0 CCHS lead with just under a minute left in the first quarter.
“That was my fault (on Johnson’s interception),” said Robertson. “I put Landon in a bad situation right there.”
The visitors responded to that turnover with a run-only series that culminated in Johnson’s 1-yard TD keeper, and Colley’s PAT cut the CCHS lead to 14-7 at 8:40 of the second frame.
The Warriors failed to extend their lead when a 43-yard field goal attempt fell short with 1:53 left before the half.
“We’re not doing anything different as coaches; our kids just don’t want to lose right now, and we’re going to get to play again,” said Robertson. “Madison Academy’s a great team, but every team out there is good at this point of the season. Hopefully we can play our best and we got through tonight with no injuries.”