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The much-anticipated game between Cherokee Middle School and Rockwood played at Kingston's Dr. Nat Sugarman Memorial Field didn't disappoint Thursday evening as the Tigers won the battle of the two unbeaten teams, 22-6.
“They have a good team and we knew coming in that it was going to be a physical game,” Rockwood head coach Scott Harvey said. “I give a lot of credit to (Cherokee) Coach Brian Pankey and his staff; they do a good job of preparing their team to play.”
“It was a physical game and I'm proud of how hard we played,” Cherokee head coach Brian Pankey added. “They've got a really good team and I thought their running backs made the difference.”
Both teams entered Thursday's contest undefeated at 7-0 and most of their wins had been blowouts, but it was apparent early on that this game wouldn't be decided until the fourth quarter.
The first period of play would see the defenses dominated with the exception of a couple of plays.
Rockwood and Cherokee punted to end their first possession, but the Jackets had the first big play of the game when Malcolm Lane ripped off a 27-yard run midway through the first period to give Cherokee a first down on Rockwood's half of the field.
Cherokee, however, punted the ball three plays later then Rockwood's first big play of the night gave the Tigers the lead.
Facing second-and-10 from their own 31, Rockwood's Kyron Inman took a handoff, made a couple of Jacket defenders miss, and then raced 69 yards for a touchdown.
Inman also added the two-point conversion to make the score 8-0 with 32.8 seconds left in the first quarter.
After punting the ball away on their first possession of the second quarter, Cherokee's defense came up with a big play as Lane sacked Rockwood's quarterback and forced a fumble that was recovered by Cherokee at the Tiger 12 yard line.
The Jackets scored four plays later when Paul Bolden hooked up with Lane from 14 yards out.
Cherokee's two-point try failed, leaving the score 8-6 with 1:59 left in the first half.
Whatever adjustments Rockwood made at halftime, they seemed to work as the Tigers opened the second half with a long scoring drive.
Starting from their own 45, the Tigers drove 55 yards in 12 plays with Inman scoring on a one yard run. Inman also added the conversion to make the score 16-6 with 2:17 left in the third period.
Cherokee picked up a pair of first downs on their next possession, but the Jackets drive ended in disaster as Rockwood's Jared Neerman picked off a pass and his 22-yard return gave the Tigers great field position at the Jacket 25.
The Tigers turned the turnover into points five plays later when Drake Long scored on a 15-yard run with 2:03 left in the game.
Rockwood's two-point try failed, leaving the score 22-6.
Rockwood ended the evening with 215 yards offense on 32 plays.
Inman was Rockwood's big gun on the night as he carried the ball 13 times for 156 yards and two TDs.
Cherokee ended the evening with 89 yards of offense on 28 plays. Lane led the way with 39 yards rushing on eight attempts.
Thursday's contest won't be the only meeting this year between the two teams, however, as they will meet again Tuesday with the Clinch Valley Conference Championship on the line.
“We're going to have go out and work hard in practice,” Pankey said. “We'll watch this film and see what we can come up with for Thursday's game.”
“I don't think we did a good job offensively today and we'll have to do a much better job on offense if we're going to win the championship Thursday,” Harvey added. “We need to have a great week of practice.”