With Milton (5-3, 3-2 Region 5AAAAAA) averaging 33 points a game, slowing the Eagles’ high-powered offense figures to be a tall task for Cherokee (1-7, 0-5).
“Well they are definitely in the same category as Lassiter and Walton,” Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said of Milton. “They have a bunch of kids that are being heavily recruited to play in college. I don’t know if we can slow them.”
Leading the Eagles’ attack will be running backs Peyton Barber and Treyvon Paulk.
In a 59-27 win over Etowah on Oct. 4, Barber and Paulk combined for 297 yards rushing and six touchdowns, with Barber averaging 7.3 yards per carry and Paulk averaging 9.2.
“They have some strong running backs and a very physical offensive line,” Shaw said. “How our defensive line responds to their physical play and the big monsters they have on their line will be key. That’s about what they are — monsters.”
Shaw doesn’t expect Milton to try and outfox his players. Instead, he expects the Eagles to impose their style of football upon Cherokee’s defense.
“They are a team where they say, ‘Hey, this is what we are going to do.’ Not, ‘It’s your job to stop us,’” Shaw said. “That is the mentality they have.”
For Cherokee to stay in the game, Shaw believes the Warriors’ defense will have to replicate their performance against Walton from five weeks ago.
Against running back Tyren Jones, an Alabama commitment and one of the state’s leading rushers, Cherokee allowed only 281 yards of total offense and entered the fourth quarter down by only a touchdown at 14-7.
“We are hanging our hat on the fact that we played tough against Walton and their big offensive line. Our kids played tough as nails,” Shaw said. “We rose to the occasion on that one. That was the last game that I’ve felt that we played good football, but we hope to do it again against Milton.”
Even if the Warriors do manage to slow the Eagles’ offense, they will have to find a way to jumpstart their own offense, which hasn’t managed to score more than 10 points in a game since their 38-28 victory over Sequoyah in the second week of the season.
To do that, Shaw said, the Warriors will have to transfer what they do in practice onto the field Friday night — something he believes they have failed to do for the majority of the season.
“We practice all week long. Then, when get out there in a game, it’s like we panic when we are under the lights,” Shaw said.
Hunter Wingfield will likely start as Cherokee’s quarterback for the second week in a row, with Spencer Ashley a game-time decision due to a sprained ankle he suffered against Etowah two weeks ago.
Wingfield and the Warriors’ offense will also be forced to contend with Milton defensive end Carl Lawson, a five-star Auburn commitment who has been touted as one of the best players in the nation.
Football will not be the only thing going at Cherokee on Friday night, as both teams will be collecting donations for Milton assistant coach and Cherokee resident Michael Scott, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has been given only a few weeks to live.