Just Golden: Warriors win first football region championship since 2016

Cherokee County High School’s Tae Diamond takes a handoff from Warrior quarterback Jeb Crane during the Warriors’ game against Ashville on Friday night. Photo by Billy Garrett.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

CENTRE – The Cherokee County High School seniors wanted to wear the Warriors’ gold football uniforms on Friday night against Class 4A, Region 6 opponent Ashville. The Warriors first wore them back in 2019, Jacob Kelley’s first season as Cherokee County head coach.

The gold attire is kind of symbolic of how far the Warrior seniors have come since Kelley’s first year. Now they’ve taken on an added meaning.

“My seniors wanted to wear those tonight to kind of set a statement that anytime we’re playing for a championship, we wear gold,” Kelley said. “I told them ‘Deal.’ If that’s what wearing the gold means, and we’re playing for a championship, then we’re sitting in a pretty good position.”

The Warriors are definitely sitting in a pretty good position right now. Following their 40-0 victory, Cherokee County (8-1, 5-1) earned its first region championship since 2016. The Warriors also clinched a first-round home playoff game on Nov. 6 against Corner.

But Ashville (2-7, 1-5) made Cherokee County earn its latest region title, particularly in the first half. The Bulldogs’ rushing attack caused the Warriors’ fits early on.

“To be honest they kind of gave us a taste of our own medicine,” Kelley said. “We were up a couple of scores at halftime, but it was not a pleasant halftime speech. I think the only blood we had as far as the first half goes was me busting my knuckles at halftime. We weren’t playing to our standard. I thought we played soft. We weren’t attacking. We were just kind of expecting to be crowned without doing the work to get crowned.

“We came back out in the second half and played much cleaner, but we’ve still got to clean up some penalties. That’s all us. We’re happy with where we’re sitting right now. I’m proud as heck to be their coach. They’re a great bunch to coach, and they put the work in and deserve every bit of it. We’ll definitely enjoy it before we go back to work next week.”

For the second week in a row, the Warrior run game was hard for their opponent to handle. Jacob Cornejo led the way with 163 yards on 15 carries with three touchdowns. Tae Diamond tallied 104 yards on eight totes with a score. Jack Amos added 86 yards on nine carries with two scores.

The Warrior run game was especially important on Friday night as senior quarterback Cade Hopper was unavailable due to a leg injury he suffered in last week’s win over Etowah.

Junior Jeb Crane started in place of Hopper at quarterback.

“With Cade being hurt, you could say it kind of forced us into being one-dimensional, but we have faith in our guys,” Kelley said. “When our guys are playing with the physicality they’re capable of, sometimes it doesn’t matter necessarily if you know what’s coming. If we know what they’re lined up in and we’ve got numbers, we feel pretty confident we can execute and be a well-oiled machine. Giving up negative plays and penalties are our biggest issues, so that’s what we’ve got to eliminate to be clicking on all cylinders. We did some good things tonight. We did some bad things. We’ll clean those up and hopefully give Cade another week to just kind of heal up.”

Ben Frampton set the tone early for the Warriors on the opening kickoff. He recovered the ball at the Bulldog 25-yard line, and one play later, Cornejo took it into the end zone for his first touchdown of the night. Following an Ashville punt, Diamond delivered a 38-yard score for a 13-0 lead.

But then Ashville began to methodically control things. A 14-play drive drove the ball inside Warrior territory. The Bulldogs attempted a 53-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked by Malachi Horton and recovered by Alex Loyd.

The Warriors were forced to punt on their next possession, and once again, Ashville methodically ran the ball. However, a Ryan Harris fumble was recovered by the Warriors’ Haden Wheeler to kill the drive.

One play after the fumble, Diamond ran for 42 yards down to the Bulldog 5. Two plays later, Amos scored on a 6-yard run. The extra point was blocked, keeping the score at 19-0 Warriors.

Ashville drove down to the Warrior 25-yard line and attempted another field goal right before halftime, but William Greyson Simpson’s 42-yard attempt was no good.

The Warriors extended their lead on their first possession of the second half. Cornejo collected his second touchdown of the night on a 38-yard run. Will Frampton’s extra point gave the Warriors a 26-0 advantage.

Following a Bulldog punt, Amos added another Cherokee County touchdown on a 3-yard run for a 33-0 lead after three.

Cornejo scored on a 15-yard run with 5:22 remaining for the final touchdown of the game, and the Warrior defense was able to post its third shutout of the season.

But more importantly, the win clinched the region title and a cold, refreshing ice bath for Kelley.

“It’s been a long time coming with this bunch,” Kelley said. “I got emotional talking to them last week about being able to send this senior bunch off region champs. It seems like yesterday I just got here. Now we can celebrate and reminisce a little bit finally now that we’ve gotten to this point before we go back to work and try to get ready for the playoffs and Fort Payne (next Friday) as well.”

Travis Smith led the Bulldogs with 51 yards on 19 carries. Eli Reeves added 41 yards on eight totes.

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