CENTRE – Cherokee County High School senior running back Damien Ramsey fumbled on the Warriors’ first offensive possession and his fourth carry on Friday night against Munford, but he more than made up for it the rest of the game.
Following the first of two CJ Gresham interceptions, Ramsey dashed 58 yards for the first of his four rushing touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the Warriors’ 34-21 victory.
Ramsey finished the game with a whopping 265 yards on 18 carries for the Warriors (5-1, 3-0 Class 4A, Region 4). Three of his four rushing touchdowns went for over 50 yards.
“He ran the ball hard, other than the fumble he had,” Cherokee County coach Jacob Kelley said. “After the fumble, I told him to get it back. Bad things are going to happen, but bounce back, and he did.”
“The fumble I had, I saw and I hit the gap. I made a cut, and I just seen the (open) field. It was going to be a touchdown, but I lifted my arm just a tad bit, and somebody poked the ball out,” Ramsey said. “I tried to jump on it, and it bounced some more. They got the ball back and I got mad. I come back the next drive out and took it to the house.”
Following the second Gresham interception, Ramsey scored again. But this time it was through the air. He caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Cade Hopper, pushing the Warrior lead to 13-0 at halftime.
“There were a couple of plays where he just took off,” Munford coach Michael Easley said of Ramsey. “We had him in the backfield twice on long runs, but just couldn’t make the play. He’s a heck of a ball player. It looks like he’s trimmed down from last year. He’s more explosive. He’s a really good ball player, and they’ve got a really good team.”
Aside from Ramsey’s running and Gresham’s two first-half interceptions, the Lions’ were controlling the tempo of the game. Their first drive methodically went 15 plays and 54 yards, and ate up 6:25 of the first-quarter clock, but yielded no points.
“Coming in, I wanted to keep the ball from them,” Easley said. “I felt like we had some sets where we could move the ball and have some success. Obviously those two drives in the first half where we didn’t score, you look at the scoreboard and that’s a big deal. I’m proud of the way our kids fought. Our kids fought for four quarters. We haven’t fought for four quarters the past couple of weeks. I go back to those two offensive possessions we had in the first half that we just didn’t get the job done offensively. If we do, it’s a different game.”
As Easley alluded, the Lions’ next two drives inside Warrior territory were ended by Gresham, whom Easley coached when he was the offensive coordinator at Saks.
“I got to coach him when I was at Saks in seventh, eighth and ninth grade,” Easley said, who embraced Gresham near midfield following the game. “I love that kid. I’m just so happy to see him have some success. I’ve enjoyed watching him play, and that’s what I was telling him (after the game). I haven’t got to see him in a couple of years. I wanted to beat his butt on the field, but I’m really happy for that kid. He deserves some good things to happen to him. I’m proud of the young man he’s become.”
The feeling was mutual for Gresham.
“I know three of their coaches over there. They’re good people,” Gresham said.
When asked if he was surprised Munford threw in his direction, Gresham said not the first time.
“All teams really try that first one, but the second time I was like ‘really?’” Gresham said. “I saw the ball in the air, and when the ball’s in the air, it’s anybody’s ball really. I just jumped up and tried to get it.”
The second half was marred by penalties by both teams. There were 13 in the third quarter alone, and a total of 25 thrown in the game.
In the midst of the yellow flags in the third quarter, Munford (2-5, 0-4) attempted a comeback. Junior running back Corbin Smith capped a 20-play, 68-yard drive with his 4-yard touchdown run. The extra point made it 13-7 Warriors with 2:05 left in the quarter.
After Ramsey returned the kickoff near midfield, a penalty backed the Warriors up to their own 36. One play later, Ramsey scored his third touchdown on a 64-yard burst to put Cherokee County up 20-7.
Backed up in its own territory on its next possession, Munford went for a fourth-and-long, but quarterback Connor Morgan was sacked for a 12-yard loss, turning the ball back over to the Warriors at the Lion 15-yard line.
Five plays later, Ramsey scored again on a 1-yard run to make it 27-7 Warriors with 7:20 remaining in the game.
But the Lions didn’t lie down. Morgan threw for a 48-yard quick strike touchdown to Jaquan Anderson. With 5:35 to go, Munford trailed 27-14.
Ramsey slammed the door on the Lions’ hopes for a comeback on a 60-yard score. The touchdown pushed the Warrior lead to 34-14 with 3:23 left in the game.
Morgan hooked up with Anderson on a 28-yard score with 12.8 seconds remaining for the final.
Morgan finished the game completing 14-of-21 pass attempts for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson had seven catches for 132 yards and both touchdowns. Smith ran for 92 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown.
“We felt like if we got a big lead we could lock them into throwing the ball all over the field,” Kelley said. “We were penalized way more than we have been, and we’ve got to clean that stuff up. We felt coming in we had the ability, if we executed, we should score every time we got the ball. We felt like we needed to jump on them early. Just the way the game unfolded, with them controlling the clock and us letting the chains keep going, we couldn’t get off the field on third down. We’ve got to do a better job, but I’m proud of the way they finished the game.”
The Warrior win sets up a showdown atop the Region 4 standings at top-ranked and defending state champion Handley on Friday.
“We’ll get the film in. We’ll get a game plan together. We’re going to go down there and see what we’ve got,” Kelley said. “One of our team goals prior to the season was region champs. Right now if you want the region championship you’ve got to go through Handley.”