After knocking off Woodstock 35-27, the Warriors knew their work had just started. Needing to win three of their final four games in order to have a shot at the playoffs, they stepped up again and upset previously unbeaten Etowah 28-21 a week ago.
Each week, Cherokee coach Josh Shaw has issued a challenge to his players and, so far, they’ve stepped up.
“Now, we just need to win two of our last three,” Shaw said.
Those three games, which begin tonight with Roswell, will conclude with Milton and then Wheeler over the final two weeks of the regular season. Cherokee (4-3, 2-2 Region 5AAAAAA) has a region record equal to or better than each of the final three opponents, but as Shaw said after his team upset Etowah, nothing is a given.
“You go out and you play hard and you hope you put yourself in the position to win at the end of the game,” Shaw said after the Etowah game. “Our jobs as coaches is getting the team prepared so it can be in that position at the end of the game.”
Since losing to Walton on Sept. 27, Cherokee has looked like a different team.
While the offense was just as explosive — as seen in the games against Creekview and Lassiter — it now has more confidence. Likewise, the defense proved it was capable of making stops, first in the fourth quarter against Woodstock and again in the second half against Etowah.
All that means is that the Warriors know they have what it takes to win. That, in and of itself, is a big step for a program that finished 1-9 just a year ago.
“These kids have come so far,” Shaw said. “Our program has really gotten back on track. Any win for us is something because we haven’t had a lot of those recently. Now, we see that we are halfway to the playoffs. Four (region) wins will get you in.”
Shaw was particularly encouraged after seeing his players put all three phases of the game — offense, defense, and special teams — together in last week’s upset of Etowah.
“When the offense sputtered a little bit, we made the big plays when we needed to,” Shaw said. “Big-time players make big-time plays, and these kids have seen they are capable of that.”
Quarterback Spencer Ashley has been a driving force for the team throughout the season, as have running back Blake Johnston and athletic brothers Brittain and Blace Brown. Other players, such as running back Dwayne Tiller and receivers Andrew Harris and Jordan Freeman, have started stepping up on offense.
Meanwhile defensive players such as linebackers Michael Bean and Brandon Hrouda, defensive back Asher Davis and lineman Aubrey Sharp are shutting down opposing teams.
“It’s coming together,” Shaw said. “The kids are seeing that.”