Walton pulls away from Cherokee
by Zac Diodati
MDJ Sports Correspondent
September 29, 2012 02:43 AM | 2507 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cherokee at Walton

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MARIETTA — First-year Cherokee coach Josh Shaw had been preaching a message of “new expectations” to his football team, and, on Friday night, the Warriors came close to achieving a monumental upset over last year’s state runner-up.

Ultimately, though, the Warriors fell to Walton

21-7 in the Region 5AAAAAA game, which doubled as homecoming night at Raider Valley.

Future Alabama tailback Tyren Jones led the Raiders with 180 yards on 25 carries, including a 47-yard score that sealed the victory for Walton (4-1, 2-0). Jones’ performance gave him well over 1,116 yards on the season after just five games.

Early in the fourth quarter, with Walton clinging to a 14-7 lead, Cherokee’s Blace Brown intercepted Walton quarterback Parker McLeod and returned the ball to the 10-yard line.

With McLeod appearing to be injured on the play, and the Warriors (1-4, 0-2) set up with a first-and-goal, the interception appeared to be a turning point in Cherokee’s season. Walton’s defense stood tall, however, sacking Cherokee quarterback Spencer Ashley on third down, and leaving Cherokee with fourth-and-goal from the 20.

The Warriors failed to score on their final opportunity, and Walton took back control of the game.

“We struggled running the ball all night long, so that kind of hindered us when we got down (in the red zone),” Shaw said. “We ended up taking a big sack, and there’s just not enough plays in the playbook to reach for on fourth-and-20.”

Ashley did seem to have success with the rest of the playbook, however, as the sophomore completed 16 of his 25 passes for 202 yards and one score. The young quarterback found Hunter Wingfield on a crossing route in the middle of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown early in the third quarter, cutting the Walton lead to 14-7 and turning what was a stale game into a close contest.

After Cherokee failed to capitalize on the turnover forced by its defense, Walton needed only four plays to seal the deal.

Jones had accumulated well over 100 yards, but he hadn’t been able to break a big play. That changed when he took a handoff from backup quarterback Price Wilson and outran the Cherokee defense for a 47-yard touchdown, extending the Walton lead to 21-7 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game.

The play was Jones’ second score of the game. The first came in the second quarter on an 18-yard run to the corner of the end zone to take a 14-0 lead.

“We made some plays on defense (Friday),” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “We’re getting better on defense, but we’re struggling on offense. If we don’t fix that and start playing better on offense, we’re going to struggle to beat good teams.”

For Walton, the next test is a steep one as it travels next week to its heated east Cobb archrival Lassiter, who is ranked second in the state.

“Hey, it’s still the ‘Super Bowl of east Cobb,’” Hidalgo added. “Lassiter and Walton can’t stand each other, so we’re going to go over there and play our tails off and do everything we can to win that game.”

Walton had the edge on the Trojans in both of their meetings last year — 34-10 in the regular season, then 30-24 in the state semifinal.

Cherokee, meanwhile, will face the first of a two-week stretch against county rivals, starting with Woodstock. A familiar face will be on the opposing sideline as former Warriors coach Brian Dameron, who resigned after the 2011 season, is now the Wolverines’ defensive backs coach.
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