Cherokees secure 4A playoff berth
By Bill Howard
On the final night of the regular season of high school football Friday night, South-Doyle High School needed a win to ensure its place in the Class 4A state playoffs, which start this Friday. Four teams were battling for three spots in their region, and myriad final scenarios were possible.
On a chilly, damp Senior Night at home, the Cherokees’ postseason invitation was delivered by the end of the first quarter.
Behind a ferocious rushing attack – led, as usual, by senior Shawn Gary – S-D romped to a 21-0 first-period lead, then cruised to an easy 45-7 win. The three scores in the first period needed all of 11 plays and fewer than six minutes.
“We played tonight like we knew we were capable of playing,” said ‘Kees coach Clark Duncan. “We’ve a very talented team, We played with a lot of intensity on both sides of the ball.”
“They’re good,” said Brad Turner, Eagles coach. “We didn’t play well tonight. We just didn’t come out ready, on either side of the ball. Defensively we didn’t tackle well. Offensively we just couldn’t get anything going.”
Gary ran the ball 21 times for 217 yards and four touchdowns. And it could have been much more. In the second half, he had all of one carry: a 74-yard scoring run on the first play from scrimmage.
“I’m glad he’s on my side; he makes me look like a really good football coach,” Duncan said of the shifty and powerful Gary.
“Shawn’s a fantastic back,” Turner said. “Really, really good. We were there to make some plays and he’s just a good ballplayer.”
The Cherokees (6-4, 3-2 Region 2-4A) led 21-0 after one behind Gary’s three touchdown runs. The first came from five yards out. The drive was only 25 yards because of a punt return.
Taking right back over on Gibbs’s 20 because of an Eagle fumble, Gary scored from the 11 on a fourth-and-one.
Another quick three-and-out by Gibbs (4-6, 1-4) put S-D right back in business on their own 12 with 5:35 left. A 40-yard run by Gary, and a 38-yard completion by quarterback Nick Martin to Ty-Quan Stewart, set up Gary’s two-yard touchdown run with 3:52 left in the quarter.
By then the game was long over. The Cherokees added a second-quarter score with 5:16 left when Martin faked a handoff to Gary, then virtually walked untouched in for the score from 14 yards out. The half ended 28-0.
Certain first-half statistics starkly tell the story: For the half, South-Doyle ran 34 plays for 287 yards. The Eagles’ offense amassed a mere 40 yards on 24 plays.
“We had a great meeting Monday and talk about this game was do or die,” said Duncan.
When Gary made it 35-0 on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, it triggered a continuous clock. Gibbs then scored their lone touchdown on the next drive when quarterback Bryson Palmer connected with Bryson Walker from 43 yards.
The clock resumed normal function but again went continuous early in the fourth when Brandon Smith scored from three yards with 9:54 left in the game, completing the scoring.
“I think we have the best offensive line around,” Duncan said. “I see ‘em in practice every day. We got a quarterback who can get it out. And we got a stud there at tailback.”
Friday’s loss brought the Eagles’ season to a close. A number of close losses will leave Turner wondering what might have been.
“Had a tough season,” he said. “We lost two games by three, one game by six, one game by seven. We gotta learn how to finish.”
For Duncan and the ‘Kees, it’s on to another postseason. “You go in, doesn’t matter who you play,” he said. “Everybody’s starting new. Any given night anybody can win.”
Clark Duncan Day
Monday, Oct. 25 was declared Clark Duncan Day in Knox Co. It was approved by the County Commission and presented by County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “Really special,” said Duncan. “But it comes from years of help from many others.”