The teams will meet for the 30th time tonight when they take the field in a series that dates back to 1978 — the first year that Etowah played a full varsity schedule. Previously, Cherokee was the county’s only high school, until Etowah was opened to serve the county’s southern half.
Cherokee (3-3, 1-2 Region 5AAAAAA) has won 14 of its meetings with Etowah, but just once since 1993. The only team that the Warriors have defeated as many times as Etowah is Milton — a series that dates back to 1956.
“It’s county football,” Etowah coach Dave Svehla said. “The kids know each other, they have grown up with each other and they have been playing against each other for a long time. That makes this game just a little bit different than a game out-of-county.”
Tonight’s homecoming game at Cherokee’s Tommy Baker Field promises to add another chapter of drama to the saga.
Etowah is 6-0 for the first time since 1987, and the seventh-ranked Eagles are 4-0 in region play, with control of their destiny in the quest for a region title. Aside from a pair of single-digit victories against Milton and Roswell, Etowah has won most of its games by double-digit margins.
Meanwhile, Cherokee has been a bit of a wild-card.
Junior quarterback Spencer Ashley led the Warriors to a 2-0 start. After that, they lost three straight games before rebounding with a win over Woodstock heading into last week’s bye.
According to Cherokee coach Josh Shaw, his team needs to win three of its final four games to put itself in the state playoffs for the first time since 2007. After Etowah, the Warriors face Roswell, Milton and Wheeler to end the regular season.
“You are going to need four (region) wins to get in (the playoffs),” Shaw said. “We are taking it one game at a time and not even thinking about the playoffs, although that is still a goal. We have four region games left. We have won one and we need to win three more. This is the next game, so a win against Etowah would get us halfway there, and we would have two wins with three games remaining.”
For that reason, Shaw said it hasn’t been hard to get his players to look past homecoming and toward the task at hand.
“They have been focused on the game,” he said. “We had our best practice of the last two weeks (on Wednesday), which was after the homecoming parade. I hope that we are focused and putting all the outside stuff that goes along with it on the back burner.”
Shaw sees the game with Etowah as a big opportunity.
“If were to play well enough to win, it would be a great thing for our program and where we are trying to get to,” Shaw said. “We are trying to get to the point in our program where we are one day 6-0 and ranked and in (Etowah’s) position. It’s a great opportunity for our kids and we are looking forward to it.”
Etowah certainly won’t be taking Cherokee lightly.
“They know where to put their kids in there to make them successful,” Svehla said. “Our kids have watched the film and know that it’s going to be a tremendous challenge to slow them down, and not many teams have. I think we are excited about the opportunity.”
Slowing the Warriors down is exactly what the Eagles will have to do. Teams that entered into a shootout with Cherokee, often haven’t come out ahead. Cherokee has lost just once when scoring more than 30 points, and that was a narrow 42-41 loss to Lassiter.