It was a tale of two halves for Cherokee Bluff in its region matchup against Lumpkin County.
The schools played each other close in the first 12 minutes, but a punishing Indians (3-3, 1-1) rushing attack was too much for the Bears (0-7, 0-3) to overcome, as they eventually lost 42-19.
“I really felt like our kids played with a lot of resiliency, played with a lot of mental toughness,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones said. “We were able to overcome some mental mistakes, which was a positive sign for the future. I thought from an offensive perspective that we moved the ball as well as we have all year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get the outcome that we wanted.”
The 19 points Cherokee Bluff put up were the most the team has scored all season, with much of that production coming from both the arm and the legs of senior quarterback Connor Boyd. Boyd completed 15 of 26 passes for 227 yards and a pair of passing scores. He also rushed for 67 yards and a score.
Boyd and the Bears offense came out sharp early, marching down the field in 11 plays on a five-minute long drive that Boyd capped off with a 13-yard toss to Jacob Carlson that put Cherokee Bluff on the scoreboard first.
It was the first time all season that the Bears owned a lead.
Cherokee Bluff looked to hold momentum on the ensuing Lumpkin County drive, forcing a Luke Smith fumble on the Indians’ fifth offensive snap that Jarrett Greene recovered at midfield. But the Bears could not emulate the offensive success of the previous possession, punting the ball away after a quick three-and-out.
It only took four plays for Lumpkin County to claw back into the lead when Luke Smith made amends for his turnover by breaking away for a 77-yard touchdown score that put the Indians on top 7-6.
The Bears went up again in the second quarter when Boyd scored with his legs from 5 yards out, but once again, the lead was short-lived. A fumble following a mishandling of a pitch from Boyd to Harrison Carter gave the ball back to the Indians deep in Cherokee Bluff territory, a turnover that eventually led to Smith’s second score for Lumpkin County, this one coming from 1 yard out.
Both teams scored two touchdowns in the first half, but the Bears went 0 for 2 on PATs — the first one was blocked and the second was an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt — while the Indians found success both on a one-point kick and a two-point conversion of their own.
At halftime, Lumpkin County led 15-12.
But injuries forced a couple Cherokee Bluff players to start playing both sides of the ball, according to Jones, a forced adjustment that “obviously took its toll.”
“I thought they did an excellent job of going back to the basics, and I thought they ran the football well in the second half” Jones said. “We’ve got to get better fundamentally and do a better job tackling and blocking offensively. But we’ll get back to work and do that.”
Behind a number of explosive running plays — touchdowns rushes of 13, 80, 85, and 30 yards — Lumpkin County piled on scores as the second half progressed. Meanwhile, the Bears offense stagnated, struggling to prolong drives and turning the ball over on downs a couple of times in the second half.
Despite the growing deficit, Cherokee Bluff continued to battle back, scoring on a 37-yard strike from Boyd to Jaylon Justice with five minutes to play, trailing by 30, and nearly picking up another touchdown before a fumble inside the Lumpkin County 10-yard line halted a promising drive.
Following the turnover, the Indians managed to run out the clock on the 42-19 win.
“I’m just really proud of the resiliency,” Jones said. “We challenged our kids before the game to play with a great effort, to play every play. Not to focus on the scoreboard, but to focus on winning the next play. I thought they played hard all the way to the final whistle.”
Up next, Cherokee Bluff visits East Hall on Friday in Gainesville.
Story to be updated.