CANTON — In the 36th meeting between Cherokee and Etowah, it was a moment of toughness and grit which decided the winner on the final play of the game.

Etowah wide receiver Jackson Manns caught a perfectly thrown ball from Dalton Miller, withstood a physical hit on the goal line, and crossed the plane to give Etowah a 27-24 win in overtime at Tommy Baker Field. The Eagles were trailing 24-21 after Cherokee’s Luis Mijanos nailed a nailed a 36-yard field on the Warriors first overtime possession and Manns’ catch gave Etowah (3-3, 1-0) a walk off victory and a perfect start in Region 4AAAAAAA.

“There’s just nothing like that,” Manns said after the game. “I knew I was gonna get hit, I knew it was coming, but luckily I held on this time.”

Manns’ touchdown capped a furious comeback victory for the Eagles who trailed 21-7 at half and 21-13 late in the fourth quarter. Miller’s touchdown to Blake Bohannon late in the fourth quarter gave Etowah a fighting chance and a successful two-point conversion to Brock Rechsteiner tied the game at 21 with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation.

Etowah overcame the 14-point deficit, a missed extra point and a scoreless trip inside the Cherokee two-yard line. The visiting Eagles rushed the field after Mann’s final score and the Cherokee players were stunned as their homecoming game came to a painful ending.

“We’ve lost too many of these games,” Etowah head coach Dave Svehla said. “Our kids deserve to win one like this.”

Cherokee (4-2, 0-1) looked explosive in the first half, particularly with wide receiver Adarrius Harshaw. After Etowah opened the scoring with Miller finding Rechsteiner for a 13-yard touchdown pass, Harshaw’s long kickoff return set up Cherokee’s first score. A.J. Swann found Landon Ergle on a beautifully designed tunnel screen for a 17-yard touchdown pass and the game was tied 7-7 at the end of one quarter.

Swann found Harshaw for two touchdowns in the second quarter, one on a 21-yard fade route and the other on a 60-yard post down the middle of the field. Swann finished 21-for-32 passing for 249 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while Harshaw finished with six receptions for 91 yards and two scores. Ergle finished with nine receptions for 64 yards.

The Warriors defense was playing well and Cherokee seemed to have all the momentum heading into halftime.

“I thought Cherokee’s defense was outstanding in the first half,” Svehla said. “But our defense was unreal in the second half and we got to their quarterback a lot. In those games that we’ve lost like against Hillgrove or South Forsyth we played good football but in the most important times in the game they made plays and we didn’t.

“And tonight I thought our defense made play after play and our offense really sucked it up through some tough circumstances. I can’t even tell you how happy I am.”

Miller finished 20-for-31 passing for 209 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Rechsteiner led the Etowah receiving corps with eight receptions for 72 yards and two scores while Manns finished with four receptions for 62 yards and the final touchdown.

The two teams played about as evenly as possible as Cherokee finished with 279 total yards and Etowah with 305. Both defenses made plays at crucial moments in the game, but it was a special play in the final moments of the game that made the difference.

“I wasn’t sure if I crossed the goal line or not, I had to look over and check,” Manns said. “This group of brothers we have has been through so many hardships and so much adversity that it’s nice to finally be on the winning side of one.”

Etowah will play Woodstock at home next week while Cherokee will play at home against Roswell.

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