By Nathan Berg
The onfield results weren’t what Cherokee Bluff (0-1) head coach Tommy Jones had hoped for in his team's first game in program history, as the Bears lost 33-0 to Whitefield (1-0) on opening night. But the game day atmosphere at the brand new school was everything he could have asked for.
The forecast called for storms in Flowery Branch ahead of the Saturday night kickoff, yet despite the gray skies and threat of rain, Cherokee Bluff fans were out en masse for tailgating festivities outside of the stadium hours before the start of the game.
In a field adjacent to the school, younger fans lined up to play on an inflatable slide. Parents stood by, supervising and speculating about the coming season. In the parking lot, students applied purple body paint and donned capes in preparation for a rowdy opening to the school’s first ever football game. An anticipatory buzz permeated the entire campus, as everyone involved got ready to kick off a brand new tradition.
By 7 p.m., a light evening drizzle had developed into a downpour. But the rain did not dampen the spirit of the Cherokee Bluff student section. The purple mass of fans, eager to cheer on their new team for the first time, had already filled the first couple rows of bleachers when the deluge began with half an hour still to go until kickoff.
At 7:30, the section was full.
“Great atmosphere, great community,” Jones said. “We believe that the the sky's the limit for this place.”
Despite all the fanfare, it was rough sledding from the get-go for the Bears, as a physical Whitefield rushing attack battered them throughout the game. The Cherokee Bluff defensive backs made a few nice plays early on, holding Whitefield quarterback Davis Eaton to 16 first-half passing yards on 2-for-6 passing and breaking up a couple of would-be touchdowns in the first 24 minutes of the game.
But off-and-on rain made getting into any rhythm in the passing game a near insurmountable challenge for the Bears, and their offensive line struggled to get much push up front. Wolf Pack running back Eric Little Jr. racked up 99 yards in the first two quarters on 10 carries, scoring twice and muscling Whitefield to a 30-0 halftime lead.
A lightning delay put things on hold during the break, forcing the players, the non-student fans and the student section — still full despite the one-sided nature of the game — to retreat indoors. When the conditions were deemed safe to resume play, nearly the entire contingent of supporters returned to the stands.
Those who stayed were rewarded with a much more competitive half of football.
The Bears never quite resolved their offensive struggles, but locked down on defense, making some big third-down stops and recovering a fumble to halt a Wolf Pack red zone drive. The team gave up only three points over the final two quarters of play.
And while the 30-point hole Cherokee Bluff dug itself early on proved too deep to climb out of, Jones said he saw enough from his team in the second half to build on moving forward.
“I’m really proud of our resiliency,” he said. “Our guys got behind early. We had a bad start. But they kept playing hard. And we saw some good things tonight.”
The Bears will be back in action next Friday when they go on the road to take on first-year Denmark.