Single play changed game#039;s course
BIRMINGHAM - While the Cherokee County Warriors nursed a 6-2 lead early in the fourth quarter, the state championship turned on one dramatic play.
The biggest play in the biggest game of the season started with the pass rush.
Pike County defensive end Martez Boykin had been frustrated by Cherokee County quarterback Zach Morgan throughout the game. Boykin and his teammates were able to apply consistent pressure for most of the game, but the junior quarterback would normally fling the ball toward a receiver to avoid giving up the big loss.
Officially, Pike County sacked Morgan three times. Unofficially, they made him throw earlier than he wanted to most of the afternoon.
&uot;I'll hand it to him, he kept getting rid of it,&uot; Boykin said of several near-misses that Morgan threw aside.
Tim Issac, whose three tackles included a 10-yard sack of Morgan, stopped running back Hershel Houston for a loss of one yard to force fourth down at the Pike County 28.
Cherokee County coach Thomas Curry was going to go for broke.
&uot;We were throwing into the end zone there,&uot; Curry said. &uot;We felt like we had the right play called - we just didn't execute it.&uot;
Curry called a play-action pass, faking the pitch to Houston and throwing long for Damion Chambers.
Boykin got a tremendous push and hounded Morgan. &uot;I knew it was gonna be a fake,&uot; Boykin said. &uot;They weren't going to make it running the ball. I just went after the quarterback.&uot;
With it being fourth down, the quarterback made an ill-advised fling toward the middle of the field while backpedaling. The pass might as well have been gift-wrapped.
Issac was waiting at the 30-yard line and cradled the ball.
But the interception wasn't enough. Issac knew the score - and knew the trouble the Bulldogs had moving the football on a surprisingly stingy Warrior defense.
&uot;When it happens so quick like that, you have to make a play,&uot; Issac said. &uot;I said, ‘Do something with it.'&uot;
In that moment, Pike County head coach Wayne Grant recalled thinking, &uot;This is our chance.&uot; Then, he had another command: &uot;Go, go, go.&uot;
Issac started in the middle of the field, angled toward the right sideline and charged 70 yards for the touchdown that put Pike County ahead 8-6. Houston had a pursuit angle and caught him around the 15-yard line, but Issac hesitated, gave a head fake, cut to the inside and kept running.
Issac was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
&uot;We stuck together when we got behind,&uot; Issac said. &uot;In a game like this the defense can make the difference.&uot;
In a game like this, the defense did the make the difference. And Issac's play was the highlight in a defensive struggle.