By Al Muskewitz, East Alabama Sports Today
MUNFORD —Cherokee County coach Jacob Kelley told his players during the week Thursday night’s matchup with Munford was going to be a 48-minute affair.
And don’t you know it took every last one of them to decide the issue.
The Warriors earned a big Class 4A, Region 4 victory when they made two fourth-down red-zone stops in the fourth quarter to hold off the Lions 28-26.
“We told them it was going to be a 48-minute war,” Kelley said. “We didn’t know how close to 48 it was going to be and it turned out to be every dad gum minute of it.”
The Warriors never lost the lead after Cade Hopper threw an 87-yard touchdown pass to Whit Johnson on their first play of the game, but had to turn the Lions back on fourth-and-inches from the 5 with 6:21 to play and then secured the victory when Damien Ramsey batted down a fourth-down Jay Tuck pass from inside the 10 with 41.3 seconds left.
Those two empty drives covered 57 and 65 yards.
“We gave up some plays in the fourth quarter and the third quarter,” Kelley said, “but we played the red area pretty dad gum good.”
Tuck threw three passes to the end zone in the final series. T.D. Parker got his hands on the second one, but couldn’t hold it as he hit the ground. On the last play, he rolled to his right and threw somewhat side-armed. Ramsey followed the play and got his big paw up to bat down the ball and end the Lions’ hopes.
Tuck, who missed last week’s game with an injury and was playing at only about 70 percent, was 24-of-41 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
It was such an exasperating victory, Ramsey requested a moment to catch his breath before he spoke to reporters about his game-saving play.
“I just read the quarterback’s eyes. I knew I had to drop back,” he said. “I saw it coming, I had to give it everything I had. The game’s on the line.
“This was very big. People have been doubting Cherokee County for the longest (time). Now we’re 6-1, 3-0 in the region. What else can we say? We’re here. We need our respect.”
Munford amassed 400 yards of offense and rallied from a 21-6 deficit but never got a lead. The Lions (4-3, 1-3) missed three 2-point conversions that denied them two leads and a tie.
In addition to his big play to start the game that loosened Munford’s box, Hopper also threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Conner Elrod on the second play of the second quarter. Ramsey, a bulldozer of a running back, rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
“He’s been a warrior for us ever since Slade (Alexander’s) injury, just stepping up,” Kelley said of Ramsey. “Cade Hopper stepped up big in the first half … Hat’s off to the guys for playing the whole game. This was a big game just for the region, for the playoffs and whatever. I’m so proud of the guys for just getting the job done tonight.”