Heading into their bye week three weeks ago, the Warriors had given up a combined 99 points in losses to Milton, West Forsyth and Mill Creek.
But after seven days off, Cherokee came back to allow seven points in a narrow loss to Woodstock and then 21 to Etowah last week — a larger number, but one against an Eagles team that prides itself on creating offense with the run.
It’s good timing for Cherokee’s defense to be playing well, because they will travel into east Cobb to face Lassiter’s spread offense, helmed by quarterback Eddie Printz.
“They love to run man coverage and challenge the offense to win the 1-on-1 matchups,” Lassiter coach Jep Irwin said about the Cherokee defense. “We will not get many easy throws because they like to bring five- and six-man pressure. To win this game, we will need to have everyone executing perfectly.”
In his first game back from a shoulder injury last week, Printz wasn’t able to keep Lassiter’s unbeaten streak alive. The junior, who has already committed to play collegiately at SMU, was 24-of-43 through the air in a 34-10 loss to Region 5AAAAA leader, and fellow unbeaten, Walton.
Irwin said Printz should be back on track this week when the Trojans (4-1, 0-1) play host to Cherokee (1-5, 0-2).
“He looked sharp early in that Walton game, and his shoulder did not seem to be an issue,” Irwin said. “It was tough for him, because he missed a game and then we had an off week. It is huge to have him back in the lineup.”
Printz, who has thrown for 1,119 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, didn’t many opportunities after halftime of the Walton game as the Raiders chewed up most of the clock with the ground game.
Irwin said the Trojans need to improve in certain areas on offense to help Printz succeed.
“We have to keep him protected,” Irwin said. “When he is upright, he makes a lot of plays for us.”
Irwin also said he’s not chalking Friday’s game up as an easy win, considering Cherokee’s struggles this season.
“I don’t think about how many wins the other team has,” he said. “I look at how well they are executing. They played well in a 7-0 loss to Woodstock, and the 21-7 score in the Etowah game does not show how close that game really was. We are worried about them having their best game of the season against us.”
Cherokee coach Brian Dameron could not be reached for comment, but Irwin said the Warriors’ veteran coach knows just what the game plan will be Friday — using the team’s trademark option offense to complement its defense.
“They like to run the clock and play shut-down defense,” Irwin said. “We will probably have two or three less possessions because of the way they like to play.”
Irwin said he knows his team can get back to the suffocating defense it played before the Walton game.
“Our defense has really improved from last season, and we have a turnover ratio of plus-7,” he said. “Our speed on defense allows us to make negative plays. Also, our offense, except for last week, has taken care of the ball and moved the ball well.”
While neither team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, a loss Friday would severely dampen Cherokee’s chances, especially with undefeated Walton visiting Tommy Baker Field next week.
Irwin, meanwhile, said the Trojans haven’t lost confidence after losing the region opener, and that they are working on consistency.
“That loss to Walton did not make or break us,” he said. “That was a rivalry game, and we both had a lot at stake. We still have five regular-season region games left, and we are working toward getting the best playoff seed possible. There are so many weeks to go that we are making sure our kids don’t get hung up on that last one.”