FLOWERY BRANCH — Cherokee Bluff’s bid to make more history came to a crashing halt Friday night.
Appling County, and in particular senior running back Taylen Crosby, ran past the Bears 34-20 in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs at Yonah Field.
Crosby, mainly a sparingly used wildcat quarterback, was unstoppable rushing for 324 yards on just 12 carries and scored four times. He upstaged Bluff’s Jayquan Smith, who came in as the classifications second-leading rusher and finished with 118 yards but was not able to find the end zone.
“Those guys just executed better than we did tonight,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones said. “They made some key adjustments and kept us from executing like we needed to against a team of that caliber. When their running back went out they went to that (wildcat formation) and had great success.”
Cherokee Bluff (11-1) was looking to make its first-ever state quarterfinals and set a new school-record in wins at the same time. Both will have to wait until next year.
Still, that did not keep Jones from calling his group of graduating seniors, who helped them open the school four years ago, one he will never forget in his postgame speech to the team.
“What y’all did in four years is just remarkable,” he told them. “The first unbeaten Hall County (in years), the first program ever to win two region titles in its first four years. You can leave here with your heads held high.”
And it was the seniors early on that looked like they were ready to make quick work of the Pirates.
The Bears wasted little time as senior quarterback Sebastian Irons capped a quick five-play drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to senior Marlion Jackson for a 6-0 lead just two minutes in.
Irons and Jackson hooked up for a 28-yard pass on a key third down and Smith, also a senior, followed with an 18-yard run one play before the TD pass.
On its third possession of the game, Cherokee Bluff extended its lead to 13-0 when Irons ran in from 4-yards on third down to finish off a short 31-yard drive in the second quarter.
Things were definitely looking good for the Bears. On the Pirates next play Jhace Justice nearly picked off Appling quarterback Dayson Griffis creating a 2nd-and-10. That proved costly. Appling went to an old-school power sweep offense from there with great success as Crosby took over.
Crosby ran for 7 yards, then broke loose for a 27-yard gain, and later added a 9-yard run before finishing the drive with a 23-yard score to cut the Bears lead to 13-7 with just over five minutes left in the half.
After Irons’ touchdown run, the Pirates defense clamped down as well. Bluff ran just five plays for four yards and one incomplete pass the rest of the half.
And the Appling ground game went back to work moving from the Pirates 17 to the Bears 24 before Griffis found a wide-open Darris Smith for a 24-yard TD pass to give them a 14-13 lead at the half.
Crosby was devastating with just 7 carries for 121 yards in the first half.
It didn’t get any better as Crosby picked up right where he left off on his first carry of the third quarter, rambling 77 yards for a score and a 21-13 lead. After forcing a Bluff punt, Crosby then broke loose for a 52-yard score to push it to 27-13 after a blocked extra point.
But Bluff finally got the offense going again after three punts and the end of the half. Irons and senior Brayden Nance connected on a 9-yard TD pass to cap a short 23-yard drive following an interception by senior Sam Stribling.
But three plays later Crosby struck again, busting around left end for the first time for a 60-yard score on a third-and-9 to make it 34-20 just one play into the fourth quarter.
The final two Bluff drives of the game ended on downs and the Pirates (11-1) ran out the final 3:43 to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.
Appling Co............0....14....13....7 -- 34
Cherokee Bluff.......6.....7......7....0 -- 20
C -- Jackson 16 pass from Irons (kick failed) 6-0, 10:00
C -- Irons 4 run (Armour kick) 13-0, 7:41
A -- T. Crosby 23 run (Garcia kick) 13-7, 5:33
A --D. Smith 24 pass from Griffis (Garcia kick) 14-13, 0:33
A -- T. Crosby 77 run (Garcia kick) 21-13, 11:38
A -- T. Crosby 52 run (PAT blocked) 27-13, 6:04
C -- Nance 16 pass from Irons (Armour kick) 27-20, 1:02
A -- T. Crosby 60 run (Garcia kick) 34-20, 11:44