NEWPORT— Cherokee clinched an early playoff spot, spoiling Cocke County’s homecoming with a 33-26 victory at Larry Williams Stadium Friday night.
“Anytime you lock yourself into the playoffs early, that’s a big win,” Cherokee head coach Cody Baugh told WRGS. “After missing the playoffs the last two years, it feels great.”
Cherokee (6-1, 3-0 Region 1-5A) reached into its bag of tricks often throughout the night, but it paid off in the most crucial spots. Cocke County’s defense struggled to get off the field in crucial spots, which allowed the Chiefs to score on all but two possessions.
“Cherokee’s a great team, and I tip my hat to them,” CCHS coach Scotty Dykes said. “We played well on both sides of the ball. We played hard but it just wasn’t enough.
“We had some bad decisions and mistakes at inopportune times that really hurt us,” Dykes said. “We had some great opportunities but just didn’t capitalize on them.”
Negative first down plays and penalties were drive killers throughout the night for Cocke County’s (1-5, 0-2 Region 1-5A) offense. The Big Red had four promising drives derailed by negative chunk plays or unnecessary penalties that quickly took CCHS out of scoring position in critical points in the game.
“I thought that was the difference in the game,” Dykes said. “We killed two drives inside their 30 and left points out there. We’ve got to eliminate those unforgivable mistakes.”
The Chiefs’ senior signal-caller, Collin Trent, was a perfect 7-of-7 through the air for 87 yards and a pair of scores. His leading receive, Jonas Leeper, hauled in five grabs for 63 yards and both scores through the air. Trent Price led the team’s 177-yard performance on the ground with 110 yards on 16 carries and a rushing score.
“Our game plan was to not to make these boo-boos worse. I think we survived that,” Baugh said. “We knew what our game plan was going to be. Honestly it wasn’t much different than normal. I guess the biggest thing was we weren’t able to throw it down the field like we wanted to.”
Cocke County’s offense accumulated 251 total yards, 131 of which came on the ground.
Before Friday night’s contest the team had broken the 100-yard rushing threshold just once, but with 35 rushing attempts on the night it was clear the team had a focus to get better on the ground.
“The guys up front played well, and I though Tyler (Venerable) and Roman (Stewart) both did a great job of carrying the ball and sparking the ground game,” Dykes said. “We still had some plays we missed on, but overall I liked the way we were able to run the ball.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Venerable led all CCHS rushers with 80 yards, and also had 120 yards through the air on 10-of-15 completions, and also tossed a pair of scores in the loss.
Cherokee took the opening kick and went 58 yards in a hurry to put the first score of the game on the board.
On the eighth play of the drive, Trent connected with Leeper on a quick pass off a designed RPO that went 33 yards for the score. As Cocke County’s offense prepared to retaliate, the Fighting Cocks fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
The Chiefs took over at the CCHS 24, and took just three plays to take a 13-0 lead. Collin Trent carried the ball in from seven yards out to post the game’s second score.
Cocke County’s offense finally got to take the field after Cherokee controlled the ball for the first three-and-a-half minutes of play.
The Big Red used a run-heavy attack that took over eight minutes off the clock before capping an 80-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run from Roman Stewart.
On the ensuing kickoff, CCHS used a pooch kick and recovered it at the Cherokee 36.
Cocke County chewed another five minutes off the clock before facing a fourth-and-goal situation at the Cherokee 13 yard-line.
After a low snap, and facing immediate pressure, Venerable rolled out of the pocket and found Tysen Simpson for the score to knot the game at 13 with 7:38 left in the first half.
Despite using a no-huddle attack most of the game, Cherokee took four minutes off the clock on its way to its next score. After having to convert a fourth down just past midfield, the Chiefs went back on top with a five-yard touchdown run from Jonas Leeper with 3:23 left in the first half.
Cocke County could not respond and settled with a 20-13 deficit at the half.
The Big Red inherited great field position to start the second half after a long kick return from Simpson. CCHS moved the ball all the way down to the Cherokee 15 before a penalty derailed the drive and forced it to punt.
“Trent Price had an awesome game and Brayden Jones stepped up late in the game and did an awesome job for us in helping to tackle and block,” Baugh said. “Brayden played a huge role in helping that fourth-down play late work.
“Most of the time, Trent Price is lining up at noseguard. He did a good job, but got held quite a bit and it got missed a lot. He is so quick off the ball and those guys had trouble getting to him. There are so many names you can mention making key plays.”
Cocke County’s defense forced a three-and-out on Cherokee’s first drive of the second half, after Cole Gonzalez’s punt was downed at the one yard line. The exchange set CCHS back up with good field position in Cherokee territory once again.
The Big Red made good on the favorable position this time, taking just two plays before Venerable connected with Conner Ramsey for a 31 yard touchdown to tie the game at 20.
Cherokee also wasted little time to respond. The Chiefs took just two plays of their own before Trent Price was able to escape the CCHS defensive front and race 56 yards down the field for the go-ahead score.
Cocke County had an opportunity to tie the game again, but early down issues and penalties derailed its drive once more, and ended with an interception that set Cherokee up to put the game away.
CCHS held Cherokee to a fourth and long situation, but the Chiefs converted and scored on the next play to take a 33-20 lead with 4:01 left in the game.
Cocke County would march down and get a quick score to stay in contention, but couldn’t get the defense off the field on the Chiefs’ next possession as Cherokee milked the clock to secure the win.
“This team is progressing,” Dykes said. “It’s just not showing on the scoreboard, right now. We’ve got to start cleaning some of our repetitive mistakes up, and going forward keep the same intensity we had tonight.”
Cocke County will be back on the road Friday when it travels to the Stone Castle to face Tennessee High.
Cherokee, which is on fall break this week along with all other Hawkins County schools, hosts David Crockett Friday. Scholastic sports coaches are always leery of extended time off during a season, as focus can wane.
“As a football coach, fall break scares you because there is a lot of free time and down time,” Baugh said.
“We’re going to utilize our time. We’ll have a set schedule and hopefully we’ll have a good week. Our guys won’t have any reason not to want to get out and practice with David Crockett coming in. We’ve got to be ready to go and get everything straightened out,” he said.
Baugh said there’s still plenty to accomplish during the season, starting with undefeated Crockett (5-0).
“We win one of the next three games and we’ve got a good shot of playing a home game in the playoffs,” Baugh said. “That’s been a goal of mine since we’ve been at Cherokee to play a home playoff game. That’s something in the air.”
The Chiefs have a bye week the following Friday (Oct. 18) before its final two games of the regular season.