FLOWERY BRANCH — The question on everyone’s mind was how would Region 7-3A champion Cherokee Bluff, making its first-ever postseason appearance, respond after its rough ending to what had been a near-perfect regular season.
Just fine, thank you very much.
The Bears shook off a crazy first half and used its stifling defense to eventually pull away for a 35-7 win over Region 6-3A No. 4 seed LaFayette on Friday night in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
It was their first-ever playoff win in program history and went a long way to quiet some of the doubters who wondered if they were ready to handle the pressure of the playoffs.
“We just tried to put last week behind us and I thought the kids did a good job of playing the next play,” Bears coach Tommy Jones said in an interview on the Hardy Chevrolet Scoreboard Show after the game.
“The defense played outstanding all night. We finally were able to make some plays in the second half. It was a big milestone for the program but we’re ready to move on to next week.”
For the first 24 minutes, however, it was having the feel of an upset in the making.
The Ramblers, who were in the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and had not won a playoff game since 1969, took the early lead when Jaylen Ramsey connected with Junior Barber for a 43-yard TD pass to cap their opening drive for a 7-0 lead.
The Bears were forced to punt on their opening possession but stopped LaFayette on a 4th-and-1 at their own 21 on its next possession. Two plays later Bluff appeared to tie the game on a 24-yard touchdown run from Jamir Tolbert. But it was called back for holding. The Bears once again appeared to tie the game, this time on a Sebastian Irons TD pass to Shad Dabney. But that too was waved off for an illegal formation call. Then the drive stalled completely when the Bears dropped a touchdown pass on fourth down.
“We were sloppy there for a while,” Jones said. “But the kids never quit and just kept playing. I was proud of their effort.”
Eventually, the Bears' offense would get untracked. They drove 90 yards, getting a 12-yard touchdown run from Jayquan Smith with just 1:43 left in the half to tie the game. But the key play was a 31-yard pass from Irons to Dabney on a 3rd-and-10 from their own 10 to keep the drive alive.
It went to the half that way and the Bears came out growling in the third quarter.
Bluff took the lead for good when Smith scored on a perfectly-timed 32-yard screen pass to finish off their opening drive of the third quarter for a 14-7 lead. After trading punts, they extended the lead to 21-7 on a 76-yard bomb from Irons to Eric Gohman with 3:28 left in the third.
Midway through the fourth quarter Bluff’s Tolbert picked off a LaFayette pass and Smith capped the short drive with a 5-yard scoring run. The defense sealed it when Eli Little recorded a scoop-and-score for the final score.
Now the Bears (10-1) will get ready to play host to Carver-Atlanta in next week's second round. Carver dispatched Hart County 32-21 in its first-round matchup.
“We don’t know much about Carver but we’ll get back to work on Monday and get a look at them on film,” Jones said.