Cherokee

Keegan Baker and the Cherokee defense will be challenged by perennial playoff power Rome on Friday.

Game: Rome (1-0) at Cherokee (2-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: First meeting

All-time series: First meeting

Prediction: Cherokee 31, Rome 28

Following two straight wins to begin the season, Cherokee will try to remain unbeaten when it hosts one of the most successful programs in the state.

Rome (1-0) will travel to Canton to take on Cherokee (2-0) this Friday in the first meeting between the two programs. Rome — ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAAAA — is coming off a bye week following its 28-21 season-opening win over Rockmart. The Wolves won back-to-back Class AAAAA state titles in 2016 and 2017 and are 50-6 over the past four seasons. Since its first season in 1992, Rome holds a 230-98-1 overall record which is a 70 percent winning percentage.

“I think when you mention the top programs of the state, Rome is definitely in that discussion,” Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said. “I know coach (John) Reid really well and when this opportunity came up it worked for us both. I think having the opportunity to play a program with a rich history and tradition is a really good opportunity for our guys.”

Offensively, Rome should be led by senior running back E.J. Lackey, who finished with 89 yards and a touchdown against Rockmart. Lackey has rushed for more than 2,500 yards in his high school career — playing his first two years at Chattooga — and holds offers from Stetson University and Reinhardt along with interest from Kennesaw State.

On the outside, senior receiver Jay Wise could be the most explosive player on Rome’s roster. Wise caught four passes for 70 yards and two scores in Week 1. Bryant Wilkinson, a senior defensive lineman, is a returning All-Region player for the Wolves and provides a high motor off the end of Rome’s pass rush. Cherokee should be the more experienced team overall. Rome had 19 new starters to begin the season and has a number of sophomores and freshmen in starting roles.

The Warriors are averaging 40 points per game so far this season and seem to have the weapons on offense to make it difficult for any defense they face.

Junior quarterback A.J. Swann passed for 365 yards and four touchdowns last week and connected with fellow junior Adarrius Harshaw six times for 177 yards and a score. Junior running back Keith Adams Jr. is averaging 154 yards per game and has scored four total touchdowns. Adams has been successful running off the left side behind senior left tackle Nason Simmons and the Warriors’ offensive line has played well as a unit through two games.

Defensively, senior linebacker Braesen Parker continues to lead the Cherokee defense. Parker — who set a program record for tackles in 2019 — recorded 17 tackles against Sequoyah and has 27 on the season.

Defensive turnovers played a major role in both Rome and Cherokee’s previous wins and both sides are used to causing havoc for opposing offenses. Cherokee recorded 21 interceptions last season and has three so far this season while Rome tallied 13 interceptions last year and finished with three in its season-opener.

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