According to the Maxwell Computer preseason ratings, Cherokee High School had a 33.9% chance to make the postseason.
They’re now playing in the second round of the state playoffs.
Cherokee defeated Westlake 41-23 last Friday night and in doing so became the only road team in Class AAAAAAA to advance past the first round. The Warriors were impressive on both sides of the ball, recording five interceptions and totalling over 350 yards of offense, and moved on the second round for only the sixth time in the program’s 63-year history.
“My phone blew up Friday after the game,” Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said. “I think the win allowed our kids to believe in themselves. I don’t have to convince them they’re a good team anymore. They believe it.”
Cherokee will travel to Lawrenceville on Friday and face off with No. 8-ranked Archer (8-3), the No. 2 seed out of Region 8AAAAAAA. Cherokee’s defense has been superb this season and will face a stiff test against a team averaging 34.4 points per game and 373.1 yards of offense per game.
Archer’s three losses have come against No.10-ranked Mill Creek (by three points in a lightning-shortened game), Class AAAAA No. 4 Buford (by three points in overtime) and No. 4-ranked Grayson (by three points in overtime).
“At this point, you’re not going to face anyone who isn’t really good,” Shaw said. “They’re a very physical, run oriented Gwinnett county team. Their quarterback is a smart player, I promise he won’t throw five interceptions this week, and they like to cause a lot of chaos out of their 3-3-stack defense. That’ll be a key for us is blocking up front.”
Cherokee’s offensive line did well to protect A.J. Swann last week, allowing the sophomore quarterback finish 14-for-18 passing for 213 yards with three touchdowns. This week, Archer will present a 6-foot-6-inch, three-star pass rusher in senior Jalen Mayala, who holds offers from a number of Division 1 programs. Linebacker Kameron O’Rourke (80 tackles and four sacks in regular season) and defensive back Andrew Spearman (31 tackles and three interceptions) lead the defense.
Cherokee is averaging allowing 105 rushing yards per game and has been led by a group effort. Braesen Parker (138 tackles), Brandon Byrd (111 tackles) and Patrick Dahlen (100 tackles) finished the regular season as the top three tacklers in Cherokee County, while Hunter Pendley (16), Ty Swanson (14) and Nathan Muse (10) are the top three on the team in tackles for loss with a combined 40.
Archer has rushed for 2,131 yards and 30 touchdowns as a team this season. Renoldo Spivey Jr., Jordon Swain and Schmari Campell all average 7.0 yards per carry and have combined for 1,749 yards and 24 touchdowns. Slowing down this three-headed backfield will likely be the key to the game.
“One thing that you don’t really get to see on film is they’re a tempo team,” Shaw said. “They’ll run plays about as soon as the refs will allow it. I think it was really beneficial that we scrimmaged them for an hour this past summer. It’s different when kids can actually see it versus me trying to explain it.”
One key stat to watch will be turnovers. Cherokee’s defense has created 30 takeaways this season, 21 by way of interception, while Archer’s offense has only turned the ball over eight times total.