CENTRE – The Cherokee County Warriors have a thunderous back in junior bruiser Damien Ramsey, but sixth-ranked Handley brought the lightning in junior tailback Montavious Meadows on Thursday night.
Meadows ran for 194 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 41-20 victory at Warrior Stadium that gives them control of the top playoff spot in Class 4A, Region 4.
“He’s something else,” Handley coach Larry Strain said of Meadows. “He’s hard to tackle. He’s got a low center of gravity. He’s got great foot speed to get up and down the field, but he’ll be the first one to brag on those folks making blocks up there for him.”
“He’s as electric of a guy as you’re going to see in the backfield in the state of Alabama,” Warrior coach Jacob Kelley said of Meadows. “We knew that going in. He’s a heck of a player. He ran the ball hard for them and gave us trouble all night.”
Meadows made his presence felt early in the first quarter. After the Tiger defense forced the Warriors to punt on their opening drive, Meadows galloped 72 yards on the Tiger offense’s first play of the night for a score. With 8:51 remaining in the first quarter, Handley held a 7-0 advantage.
The Warriors (6-2, 3-1) countered with a big kickoff return by Whit Johnson that set Cherokee County up inside the Tiger 40. Four plays later, quarterback Cade Hopper connected with Johnson on a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7 with 7:01 left in the opening quarter.
The Warriors took a 14-7 lead on their first drive of the second quarter on Ramsey’s 3-yard touchdown run, but once again, Handley (5-0, 4-0) showed how quickly it could score.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jamerqui Lewis raced 81 yards for a score. The extra point was botched, forcing holder and quarterback Cannon Kyles to misfire on a throw to the end zone for two, keeping the score at 14-13 in favor of the Warriors.
Hopper was intercepted by Tennessee commitment Dylan Brooks on the Warriors’ next possession inside the 20. One play after the turnover, Kyles connected with Maurice Cameron for an 18-yard touchdown. Kyles then tossed a 2-point pass to Brooks, which gave the Tigers a 21-14 edge with 8:20 remaining in the first half.
Meadows scored his second touchdown of the night with 1:27 left in the second quarter on a 48-yard scamper to put Handley in front 28-14, but the Warriors got another big kickoff return from Johnson to set Cherokee County’s offense up at the Tiger 45. Seven plays later, Ramsey lined up in the Wildcat formation and scored on a 1-yard run. Daniel Mejia’s ensuing extra point missed the mark, keeping the score at 28-20 at halftime.
Then came the drive of the game.
Handley received the ball to open the third quarter and marched 68 yards in 14 plays, eating up almost 8 1/2 minutes on the clock. The dagger of the drive was Kyles connecting with Brooks for a 15-yard touchdown, which put the Tigers in front 35-20 with 3:22 to go in the third.
“We ate the clock up,” Strain said. “We decided to run the ball a little more at them there in the second half than we did in the first half. We had some kids who were out tonight, some of my starters out. I started a different quarterback tonight, so we felt like that was what we needed to do.
“We felt like Cherokee County’s offense was the best offense we’ve faced all year. You’ve got to tackle the big back (Ramsey), and you’ve got to stop the pass. Our defense played well too. It wasn’t just an offensive night.”
“We just couldn’t get off the field,” Kelley said. “It just gets frustrating and more frustrating. We’ve got a lot of guys going both ways, so they were kind of worn down. Going three-and-out two series in a row to open the third quarter didn’t do us any favors either.
“You’re not going to beat teams like that giving up kickoff returns for touchdowns, giving up a big play on the first play of scrimmage, just doing things on special teams that didn’t help us out, turning the ball over. We had every formula for losing a football game tonight.”
The only bad thing about that happened to the Tigers on their opening drive of the third quarter was they lost Meadows at the 5:11 mark to what is believed to be an ankle injury. He did not return to the game, but at that point it was well in Handley’s hands.
“I think he just turned his ankle a little bit. We just didn’t want to take a chance with it,” Strain said.
After a Warrior punt, Handley put the game out of reach on an Amajah Williams 3-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds remaining in third for the final.
Kyles connected on 10 of his 17 pass attempts for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Brooks caught two passes for 30 yards and a score. Cameron also caught two passes for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Ramsey finished with 102 yards and two touchdowns on 24 totes for the Warriors. Hopper went 9-for-22 for 118 yards and a touchdown through the air.
“Hat’s off to Handley. They enforced their will and made things their way. It was very frustrating,” Kelley said. “Obviously we’ve got work to do. We’re going to get back to work on Monday and put this one behind us.”