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No. 10 Cherokee Bluff fights past Greater Atlanta Christian in the first round of football playoffs
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Cherokee Bluff running back Jayquan Smith carries the ball for the Bears Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, during the first half of their 3A state playoff game with Greater Atlanta Christian at Yonah Field. - photo by Scott Rogers

If at first you don’t succeed continue to pound away.

This is exactly what Jayquan Smith did in the first-round of the state football playoffs. His effort on the ground along with the Cherokee Bluff High defense’s play helped them beat Greater Atlanta Christian, 38-17, on Friday night at Yonah Field.

With the win, Cherokee Bluff (11-0) advances to host Appling County on Nov. 19 in Flowery Branch. 

“Our team kept our confidence,” Smith said. “The defense did their job. The offensive line never put their heads down. We kept looking forward to what the outcome could be if we worked hard toward the next-play mentality. We went out there and got the dub.”

The constant pounding behind the Bears offensive line allowed Smith to help get things going. 

He had a night worth remembering. 

Smith broke free for two 70-plus yard runs, and a five-yard touchdown runs and 289 yards after a slow start on the night.

His ability to break tackles, while also shoving defenders to the ground or dragging them, was exactly what the Bears’ faithful wanted to see. 

He refused to be taken down easily. 

In his 70-run up along the Bears sideline, it looked like Greater Atlanta Christian (4-7) stopped the running back. 

The play was not stopped because Smith kept his legs moving and avoided stepping out of bounds. 

This gave the Bears’ a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.

“I saw a lot of white and red jerseys but I kept running,” Smith said. “I told myself if I’m not out of bounds, oh well. If I was out of bounds, oh well. The coaches told me to keep running no matter what. To keep my legs moving you’ll be unstoppable.”

Smith took to the coaching well and then ran off another long touchdown. 

“He’s as good as there is,” Bears coach Tommy Jones said. “I thought up front we played really well. When you have the ability to be physically tough, mentally tough and run the football, you have a chance to win games in the playoffs.”

Jones has three keys to winning playoff games. They are to keep pounding the football, not to let the last play affect you, and not turn the ball over. 

He felt his squad did those things.

The defense made some critical plays to help win the turnover battle. Defensive coordinator coach Chris Griffin had the purple jerseys darting through the Spartans offensive line looking disrupt plays in the backfield or prevent big plays. Sam Stribling intercepted a play to kill Greater Atlanta Christian’s drive in one possession and he recovered a fumble in the second-half to stop another. 

Middle Linebacker Carter Daum corralled a tipped pass for an interception, while Marlion Jackson registered an interception in the end zone.

“Our guys did a great job,” Jones said. “They have done it all year. I cannot say enough about coach Griffin and the defensive staff prepare for the game.”

Greater Atlanta Christian, a fourth-seed in its region, refused to give up. 

Quarterback Joshua Sharp connected twice with Will Hardy for long touchdown scores. The first was a 75-yard pass and then a 59-yard score. Both plays silenced the Bears’ faithful. However,  Cherokee Bluff responded with plays of their own.

Bears’ quarterback Sebastian Irons connected with Jackson for an 86-yard score. Jackson finished the night with four receptions and 132 yards. Cherokee Bluff finished with 547 total yards on the night.

“We recognize we can’t just run the ball and we just can’t just throw,” Jones said. “We have to be able to do both.”

Jones is just thrilled about surviving and moving on.

“That’s an excellent football team,” he said of Greater Atlanta Christian,” Jones said. “There were a handful of plays where this game might have looked a little different. They were talented. This was a big win for us.

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