Cherokee downs Tharptown
For the FCT
CHEROKEE — A furious rally by the Tharptown Wildcats fell short on Friday night, Sept. 28, as the Cherokee Indians held on for a 48-40 win.
The Wildcats, who trailed by as many as 29 points in the second half, scored on an eight-yard Kelby Hallmark pass to Blake Gray with 41 seconds left to cut the margin to eight, but the Indians recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
Tharptown coach Bill Smith said that the key to the game was the defensive struggles that Tharptown had early in the game.
“We have got to get better defensively,” said Smith. “We’re able to score points, but against the good teams, you have to make stops. We just didn’t do that early on and dug ourselves a hole.”
The two teams traded defensive stops on their opening possessions—Tharptown went three-and-out, and Cherokee failed to convert a fourth down play—before the Indians forced a punt and took over on their own 39.
From there, Cherokee used eight plays—all on the ground—before finally hitting pay dirt on a three-yard run by Xavier Lee. The extra-point made the score 7-0 with 1:07 remaining in the first period.
After the Indians stopped Tharptown on fourth down, the Indians went back on the attack, using four runs to cover 61 yards for their second touchdown of the game, again on a three-yard plunge by Lee, moving the score to 13-0.
The Wildcat offense finally got moving on the next drive, as a Hallmark to Edgar Bahena pass on fourth-and-six gave the Tharptown offense new life. Two plays later, Hallmark rushed 41 yards on a keeper to make the score 13-7.
Jeff Patrick returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Wildcat 35, and two plays later burst through the line for a 30-yard touchdown run. Patrick added the two-pointer to make the score 21-7.
Tharptown’s next drive reached the 10-yard line, but a fumble recovery by Cherokee snuffed out the drive. On a reverse play, David Alfaro took a handoff and raced 76 yards for a touchdown to move the score to 27-7.
Alan Bohannon’s 62-yard punt return—sprung on a nice block by Brian George—gave Tharptown the ball at the Indian 13, and five plays later, Hallmark scored his second touchdown of the game to make the score 27-13 with 21 seconds left in the first half.
However, that proved to be too much time for the Indian offense, as quarterback Will Moore hit receiver Jolly Benjamin for a 53-yard touchdown pass right before halftime. The two-point conversion from Patrick made the score 35-13 at intermission.
Cherokee picked up where they left off on its first drive of the second half, moving the ball 55 yards on five plays, the last a Dakota Blystone run from two yards out, to make the score 42-13.
Tharptown’s offense took advantage of a horse-collar penalty and a 25-yard run by Bohannon to get the ball to the one-yard line, where Hallmark punched it in for his third touchdown of the game. Hallmark hit Gray for the two-pointer to make the score 42-21.
Tharptown got a defensive stop on Cherokee’s next possession, and the Wildcats went back to work. This time, a little razzle-dazzle set up the touchdown, as Hallmark hit Gray on a lateral pass, and Gray passed to a wide-open Bahena, who went out-of-bounds at the Indian two. Bohannon scored on the next play, and the extra-point from Bahena made the score 42-28.
The Indian offense showed it still had life, however, as Patrick streaked through the heart of the Wildcat defense for a 45-yard touchdown to make the score 48-28 with 8:08 left in the game.
Hallmark drove the Wildcats down the field again, rushing for an 18-yard gain to get the ball to the Indian 38, then finding Bahena, who shrugged off an Indian defender, for a touchdown to cut the margin to 48-34.
Cherokee looked to run out the clock, but Jonah White forced a fumble and recovered, giving the Wildcats new life.
Hallmark’s pass to Gray cut the margin to eight, but that was as close as the Wildcats would get, as Cherokee survived the finish.
Smith was pleased with the effort of his team. “It would have been easy for these guys to lay down, and they didn’t. That is a big step for us.”
For the game, Hallmark finished 10-of-19 passing for 138 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 156 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns. Bahena had seven receptions for 138 yards and the touchdown.
The Wildcat offense ended up with 370 yards—178 through the air and 192 on the ground. Cherokee had 502, with 449 coming on the ground.
The Wildcats will be back in Class 1A, Region 8 play next weekend, as the Wildcats host the R.A. Hubbard Chiefs.