Bulldogs#039; defense saves the day

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

BIRMINGHAM - Perfection is in the eyes of the beholder.

Pike County overcame a sputtering offense and a solid Cherokee County team to complete the first 15-0 season in school history with the Class 3A state championship on Thursday.

The resourceful Bulldogs clinched their fourth state championship - and second in the past three seasons - without an offensive touchdown. Pike County prevailed with a safety and a 70-yard interception return by Tim Issac in the fourth quarter and a two-point conversion for a 10-6 victory over the Warriors.

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&uot;This is another great win for Pike County High School,&uot; head coach Wayne Grant said. &uot;Our second in three years shows the tremendous effort put forth by our young men. They made great strides in the past two years.&uot;

Assistant coach Danny Suber sounded as much relieved as he was elated when he said, &uot;It was ugly. That was ugly.&uot;

But didn't that state championship trophy the Bulldogs were holding up look good?

Cherokee County, which ended its season 13-2, did something no team has done all season - shut down the Pike County offense, which averaged 48 points per game this season.

But Pike County's defense was up to the challenge. The Bulldogs held Cherokee County to just 147 total yards of offense. The Warriors vaunted running game managed just 62 yards on 28 attempts.

&uot;If it hadn't been for our defense we'd have lost,&uot; Grant said. &uot;They were doing the same thing we were doing - playing man on the receivers and sending everybody else after our backfield. When you face man defense in the secondary, you go deep.&uot;

Cherokee County did exactly that in the second quarter. Trailing 2-0 after a safety early in the period, quarterback Zach Morgan gave the Warriors a chance with two fine throws on fade routes. Both passes went to Damion Chambers. The first covered 38 yards to the Pike County 25-yard line over defensive back James Jackson up the right sideline. The second was down the left sideline as Chambers caught the pass in the end zone a step behind defensive back Fred Caffie.

&uot;Their quarterback did a good job throwing the fade route and their receiver made a couple nice catches,&uot; Grant said.

J.R. Davis missed the extra point wide right, leaving the Warriors with a 6-2 lead with exactly five minutes remaining in the first half. Cherokee County gained 63 of its 147 yards and 2 of its 9 first downs on that drive. It was almost enough to win a state championship.


&uot;At halftime we knew we played a bad first half,&uot; Jackson said. &uot;The line came out and did a lot better in the second half. Defensively, we knew we had to keep playing hard.&uot;

But turnovers were costly. Pike County took a 2-0 lead early in the second quarter. Three plays after stopping the Bulldogs with a goal-line stand, Morgan's feet tangled with a lineman as he was pulling away from center on is own 2-yard line. He fell in the end zone for the safety, which came at 8:38 of the second quarter.

&uot;I thought we could really take advantage of that,&uot; Grant said. &uot;But it didn't happen. If we're able to score there it changes the whole complexion of the ball game. But we couldn't get it done.&uot;

Morgan tested Jackson late in the third quarter. He threw a fade route for Chambers, but Jackson matched him stride-for-stride and made the interception at the Pike County 40.

On their next possession, however, Morgan found Chambers across the middle for 11 yards on third-and-10 from the 25. A facemask penalty moved the ball to the Pike County 49. That drive continued into the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-4 from the Pike County 28, Morgan was harassed by Martez Boykin. Morgan threw off his back foot toward the middle of the field. Pike County defensive end Tim Issac picked it off and went 70 yards for a touchdown with 9:47 left in the game.

&uot;I about threw up when it happened,&uot; Cherokee County coach Thomas Curry said. &uot;I almost started crying on the sidelines.&uot;

Grant elected to gamble on the conversion.

&uot;If we kick it, they can tie with a field goal,&uot; the coach said. &uot;If we go for two and miss, we still have the lead. If we go for two and make it, they have to score a touchdown to beat us.&uot;

Pike County faked the extra point kick and ran a reverse to Darrell Reynolds. Reynolds ran around right end, was hit at the 2 and spun into the end zone, the ball landing on the goal line. That gave the Bulldogs a 10-6 lead, who went from four points down to four ahead in the amazing sequence.

The Warriors got the ball back twice from that point. They managed one first down on a pass interference penalty. A planned fake punt with less than four minutes to play never materialized as it was blown dead by a delay of game penalty.

Pike County ran out the final 3:32 and nearly scored again. But the game ended with Foster taking a knee on third-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

&uot;They played as hard as T.R. Miller,&uot; fullback and linebacker Jarmon Barrow said of the Warriors. &uot;But we played our hearts out, too.&uot;

Cherokee County followed its game plan almost flawlessly. The Warriors managed to shut out the Bulldogs offense. They made Pike County one-dimensional - holding the Bulldogs to 0 yards passing as quarterback Alonzo Foster was 3-for-10 passing. They made Trent Bennett punt seven times.

&uot;I thought our kids played too good to lose that ball game,&uot; Curry said.

But the Bulldogs were better. They held Cherokee County to 36 yards of offense in the second half.

&uot;They were just as strong as we were,&uot; Grant said. &uot;They're as good as we thought they'd be. In a game like this one break can be the difference.&uot;