MOUNT AIRY — Playoff games are won and lost by gutsy play calls. For Habersham Central High, a gutsy play call is the reason the Raiders are now headed to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year.
After trailing for the majority of the game against Cherokee High, the Raiders were able to comeback, force overtime, and win the game 36-35 on a successful two-point conversion run in the second overtime by quarterback Bo Hatchett Friday night at Raider Stadium.
"That was a compliment to (Cherokee) because we couldn’t stop them," said Raider head coach Gene Cathcart, whose team gave up 287 yards rushing to the Warriors. "We knew in the next overtime we’d have to go for it by rule, so we figured we’d get it out of the way."
The gutsy two-point conversion call came after running back Robert Renshaw scored from four yards out in the second overtime that put the Raiders within one point of the Warriors.
While everyone in the stands expected the home team to send out the field goal unit and send the game into a third overtime, Cathcart sent his offense back onto the field for the eventual game-winning two-point try.
"I feel very bad for (Cherokee) because they outplayed us for the entire game," Cathcart said. "We kind of stole the last two points from them."
The Raider comeback would not have been possible without the play of senior wide receiver Tavarres King.
The Georgia recruit, who was held to zero catches in the first half, had a huge second half for the Raiders, catching five passes for 132 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
The biggest play by King was an 85-yard touchdown that ended the third quarter and gave the Raiders some much needed momentum heading into the final eight minutes of play.
"Things started to open up in the second half and we saw what they were doing and went after it," King said, who now stands 10 yards shy of the Georgia record for most receiving yards in a season.
Not only was King the reason that the Raiders were able to fight back and get the game within reach, but he was also the reason the game was able to go into overtime.
Faced with a do-or-die fourth and nine on the Cherokee 19-yard line, Hatchett once again found his go-to receiver in the end zone for the touchdown. Trailing by two, the Raiders were forced to go for the two-point conversion, which they converted on a King end around.
The efforts of King and the rest of the Raiders almost went for naught during the ensuing drive by Cherokee, but running back John Valentine fumbled the ball after a 30-yard gain that gave Habersham Central possession at their own eight-yard line.
The Raiders were content with sending the game into overtime and ran the ball four times to end regulation.
Cherokee was the first team to get on the scoreboard when Pruitt ran the ball in from one yard out midway through the first quarter. That one-yard scoring run capped off an eight-play drive that started on the Raider 45-yard line.
The Warriors doubled their lead at the start of the second quarter when running back Matt Blaylock (86 yards on 21 carries) pushed through the defensive line for a one-yard touchdown run. The running game of the Blaylock and senior John Valentine (120 yards on 17 carries) combined for 88 yards on 15 carries in the first half and 206 yards in the game for Cherokee.
The Raiders first got on the board at the end of the second quarter, as Habersham Central Hatchett found Dee Ellison across the middle to convert a crucial fourth and seven on Cherokee’s 15-yard line. Three plays later Renshaw ran it in for a two-yard touchdown.
The Warriors third touchdown came on a quarterback keeper by Pruitt from 10 yards out that gave Cherokee a 21-7 lead.
King’s first touchdown soon followed, and propelled the Raider comeback.
Despite being down early, King admitted that the Raiders never thought that would lose.
"I feel like us being down at any point we can come back," said King. "We battle til the last horn."
The win by the Raiders sends them to the Elite Eight for the second con