By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
BRYSON CITY – Cherokee fought hard in a 41-0 loss at Swain High School on the night of Friday, Sept. 27.
From the first snap the Braves (1-5, 0-1 SMC) made one thing very clear, they were not going to lay down. The Maroon Devils (5-0, 1-0 SMC) were heavy favorites coming into the contest, and that was before the Cherokee bench was thinned out more than it already was.
After a three and out on their first drive, the Braves immediately had their backs against the wall. A shanked 8-yard punt set up Swain at the Cherokee 26-yard line. But, Cherokee held strong. A big penalty pushed the Devils back, and then strong open-field tackling by Don Bradley and an incomplete pass made it third and long. Sophomore Cameron Sampson broke free in the backfield and drug down Swain quarterback Damian Lossiah for the first sack of the game.
Cherokee could not hold onto this momentum, however. After getting the ball back, Bradley dropped back to pass and miss-timed a throw to the right for a costly interception. The Devils returned the pick all the way to the 5-yard line. One play later, Lossiah used a convoy to find his way into the end zone. A missed point after attempt made the score 6-0.
That was the start of a very tough stretch for Cherokee, as Swain went on to score on three consecutive drives. A lot of teams might have given up at this point, but not the Braves.
When pushed up against the ropes, Cherokee answered to finish the first half strong.
Junior Daniel Thompson came rushing off the right edge and blasted Lossiah has he was pulling the ball back for a pass. The ball went flying and senior Jaden Welch dove on the ball to flip possession to Cherokee with the less than two minutes to go.
A stifling defensive effort continued for the Devils, forcing another three and out to get one last chance to score before the half. Yet again, though, the Cherokee defense stepped up. Lossiah dropped back and launched the ball deep, but the pass was under thrown and AJ Allison was able to snag the interception.
Cherokee went into the half down 20-0, but the players had earned a lot of respect.
The Maroon Devils sorted out some of their issues during the break, and came out in complete control. The Swain running game was just too much to handle in the game, and eventually it began to cause some serious fatigue for the Cherokee defense. It also didn’t help that almost every defender was also playing offense and special teams.
The game was pretty sloppy throughout, with multiple turnovers from each team. Swain scored half of its six touchdowns after a Cherokee turnover.
The player of the game for Cherokee had to be Don Bradley. He threw for 110 yards on the day, and made several big plays with his legs. Constant pressure from the Swain defense found him sacked six times, and he was often found scrambling out of the pocket. His toughness was never questioned, as he took some major hits throughout the game. He was seen limping for most of the fourth quarter, but he just kept his head down and led his team.
Bradley was also very solid as a corner on defense. On multiple occasions, he was able to stop big plays with big-time tackles.
He had the team’s best play of the day. During the second quarter, the Braves were faced with a fourth down on their own 36-yard line. The Devils came with an all-out run blitz, but Bradley dropped back to pass and scrambled to the right. With a defender right in his face, the Cherokee quarterback released the ball and found Johnathan Frady wide open for a 39-yard catch and run.
AJ Allison also provided a lot of spark for Cherokee. He had several great kick returns that set up the Braves with good field possession. Along with his interception on defense, he was a workhorse on offense with 22 carries for 52 yards. There were multiple times where he made two or three defenders miss just for 1 or 2 yards.
Swain are 5-0 for the first time in seven years. In 2012, the Devils won their first 16 games before losing the state championship game against Southwest Onslow.
The Braves will return home next Friday, Oct. 4 when they host Rosman (1-5, 0-1 SMC) for their Homecoming game. The Tigers are coming off a 54-0 defeat against Robbinsville.