Cherokee Bluff overcame a halftime deficit, rode a stellar performance by Jayquan Smith and then held on to edge the Dawson County Tigers 28-27 Friday to remain undefeated and lock up the first playoff spot in school history.
The Bears (8-0, 4-0 Region 7-3A) were down 20-14 at halftime but took a 28-27 lead and came up with a huge blocked field goal late in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
"Biggest thing was our kids' ability to overcome some adversity and to continue to battle and make big plays on both sides of the football," Cherokee Bluff head coach Tommy Jones said. "Came up one point on top."
Cherokee Bluff's offense pounded the ball on the ground, led by running back Smith. He ran the ball for 303 yards, scoring all four of the Bears' touchdowns.
"Jayquan is special," Jones said. "He has the ability to make plays in space and lengthen runs. He had an outstanding game and ran extremely hard."
Cherokee Bluff got down early after quarterback Sebastian Irons threw an interception that Tiger defender Kade Moledor returned for a touchdown, just over two minutes into the game. After the Bears failed to score on the following possession, the Tigers moved the ball effectively until Tigers quarterback Zach Holtzclaw fumbled on the 1-yard line.
Smith scored his first touchdown on the next drive. Dawson County responded with a kickoff returned for a touchdown by Isaiah Grindle to end the first quarter.
Defense reigned supreme to start the second quarter. The Tigers could not find the end zone, attempting three field goals in the second half, converting two of them. Smith's 80-yard touchdown run, his second and longest of the night, happened with five minutes left in the half and the Bears found themselves losing at halftime for the first time this season.
"Halftime message was just to keep playing one play at a time," Jones said. "We didn't want to change anything. Keep playing hard."
The Bears started the second half with a 13-play drive that ended in Smith's third touchdown of the night, giving them their first lead of the game.
However, the Tigers refused to disappear. Grindle ran the ball for 63 yards on the Tigers' first play and Conley Dyer found the end zone on the next.
The Bears were still losing at the end of the third quarter. After a Dawson County punt, it only took Smith two plays to run 78 yards down the field for his fourth touchdown of the game.
The Tigers once again refused to give up, driving the ball down the field for a 38-yard field goal attempt to take the lead with 4 minutes left in the game.
But the Bears' defense came up big, blocking the attempt. A few important first downs by the Bears sealed their eighth victory of the year to remain undefeated.
Next week the Bears will face another opponent undefeated in region play when the North Hall Trojans travel to Cherokee Bluff. The Bears play their last two games of the season at home.
"We're going to enjoy this and then immediately turn our focus to a really good North Hall team that's in the driver's seat of our region right now."