After both teams have played a grueling schedule to this point, Cherokee and Etowah are set to meet in what will be a crucial outing for the Warriors’ postseason hopes.
After suffering a 41-13 loss to Roswell last week, Cherokee (3-4, 1-1 Region 4AAAAAAA) meets Etowah (0-6, 0-2) with a chance to significantly boost its playoff prospects.
“There is a lot riding on this game,” Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said. “If we win this one, there is still a way you can miss the playoffs, but a win gets us about 95 percent there. This would put us in a good position to make the playoffs, and that is our goal, to get to game 11.”
In the Warriors’ three wins this season, they scored more than 50 points twice. That high-powered offense appeared to be the recipe for success following their season-opening 52-6 blowout of Mays.
Cherokee is averaging 25.3 points per game, but that number jumps dramatically to 43 when the Warriors come out on the winning side.
This week, the Warriors match up with an Etowah defense that limited some of the better offenses on its schedule. The Eagles held North Forsyth (5-2) to 14 points and Roswell (6-1) to only 15 points two weeks ago.
“They really slow the tempo down offensively,” Shaw said. “They do not give you a lot of possessions, so we are probably not going to have a lot of possessions against them. Their defense has been playing really well, and they have played a tough schedule just the same.”
Cherokee, however, does have a player it can rely on to make special plays nearly every week when needed. Senior quarterback AJ Swann is one of the state’s best at his position with 1,338 yards and 16 touchdowns to three interceptions.
Coming off the loss to Roswell, Shaw wants to see the Cherokee offensive line protect Swann while helping to establish the run game. The Warriors only rushed for 26 yards last week against the Hornets.
“We need to execute better,” Shaw said. “We need to play better up front, be able to give (Swann) some time and keep him from being under duress in the passing game. Once again, we have to establish the running game. We have to run it more effectively.”
Etowah’s offense is much more ground-centric, and the Eagles will also be looking to establish the run on their first drive. Etowah will look to get quarterback Braden Bohannon outside the pocket to utilize his playmaking abilities against Cherokee.
“We want to continue to run the ball and use a little more play-action passing,” Etowah coach Matt Kemper said. “We worked on that quite a bit this week. We have to get Bohannon on the perimeter and let him do the things he does well.”
The Eagles will continue their trend of solid defense and an opportunistic offense. The defense has its hands full this week, though, with Swann and a potentially dangerous Cherokee offense.
“It is the formula we are trying to follow all year,” Kemper said. “Play good defense, take advantage of opportunities offensively, and look for a big play in the kicking game. Then, obviously, there is Swann, who is going to be a great player at the next level.”