E.A. Sports Today

Many happy returns

Cherokee County’s Pruett returns interception 103 yards for a touchdown, the big play in Warriors win over White Plains

Cherokee County’s Austin Pruett hauls in an interception in the end zone against White Plains before returning it for a touchdown. (Photo by Billy Garrett)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Cherokee County safety Austin Pruett told himself a long time ago if he ever intercepted a ball in the end zone he’d try to run it out as far as he could.

Is 103 yards far enough?

That’s the play Pruett delivered in the final 20 seconds of the first half Friday night and it turned out to be the big play of the game as the Warriors edged White Plains 22-13 for their much-needed first region win of the year.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever done that,” Pruett said. “It’s something I won’t ever forget. I’ve been playing since I was 5 and that’s always been a big dream of mine.”

White Plains quarterback Jaden Chatman rolled out on the play and found Ethan Bozarth in the front right corner of the end zone. The ball bounced off Bozarth’s hands and into the arms of Pruett, who immediately bolted upfield and through a maze of players without much obstruction.

It was the fifth-longest pic-six in AHSAA history and the longest since 2013, when Damiean Archibald of Sipsey Valley and Jack Peavey of Madison County both had 105-yard returns.

Officially, the senior made it to the other end of the field after taking a pass that bounced off two players’ hands with 15.9 seconds left in the first half and gave the Warriors (2-2, 1-2) a 15-0 halftime lead.

“I was just excited about getting the interception and all of a sudden I see things open up and I think he may go the distance,” Cherokee County coach Tripp Curry said. “We hadn’t had one of them in a long time. That type stuff is the way you win. Sometimes you’ve just got the better ball team and you just outrun everybody and beat everybody, but we don’t have that. We need to have a little luck – and that’s OK. We didn’t need to drop to 1-3.”

Pruett knew he was in the end zone when he caught the ball, but didn’t know how far. That didn’t dissuade him from bringing it out.

“They drove it down the field two drives in a row and I just felt like we needed a big play, so I felt like I could do it,” he said. “We’ve never really talked about (running out an end-zone pick), but I figured because we were struggling a little bit, do something to help us out.”

“That took a lot of air out of us, there’s no doubt about it,” White Plains coach Chris White said.

White Plains (2-3, 1-2) was looking to build on the momentum of its first region win in three years and position itself for its second-ever playoff spot, but the Warriors’ defense wouldn’t let it.

They stopped the Wildcats twice in the red zone in the first half and on several fourth-down situations, including Pruett’s game-breaking interception and a sack by Chancellor Latty inside the Warriors 40 when it was a one-score game.

The Wildcats’ touchdowns came on a 57-yard burst by Jaden Harris and a 12-yard pass on the final play of the game. Harris finished with 133 yards rushing in the game. Garison Abbott was their workhorse with 64 yards on 19 carries.

“It was a little difficult,” White said. “We get inside the red zone twice (and not score), that killed us. We needed to have some points. It should’ve been a tied ballgame or down by seven at the half. Their linebackers did a real good job scraping over the top and we didn’t pick it up very well, but that was an adjustment we made the second half and I felt like we did a lot better job at it too.”

“Our defense is really good,” Curry said. “They gave up 14 against Anniston, gave up 13 tonight with a big play there at the end, but our defense really keeps us alive right now.”

Both of White Plains’ touchdowns came in the second half. The Wildcats closed the scoring with no time on the clock when Chatman hit Matthew Clay with a 12-yard pass. Chatman completed four passes in the drive to move the ball down the field.

“I felt like we showed a lot of guts the second half, a lot of guts, and we didn’t quit,” White said. “We did execute and throw the ball like we needed to get down the field and score. I’m glad we didn’t just lay down and let the clock out. That’s a big plus for us, especially going into the off week.”

Cherokee County 22, White Plains 13
Team stats Cher WP

First downs 11 19
Rushes-yds 32-195 47-216
Passes 4-7-0 5-12-2
Passing yds 28 80
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Punts-avg 3-43.0 2-32.0
Penalties-yds 8-80 5-45

Scoring summary
Cherokee Co. 0 15 0 7 – 22
White Plains 0 0 7 6 – 13

CC – Conner Elrod 4 pass from Caden Hubbard (Thomas Richard kick), 7:46 2Q
CC – Austin Pruett 103 interception return (K’Von Stubbs run), 15.9 2Q
WP – Jaden Harris 57 run (Jarrett Crow kick), 4:47 3Q
CC – Slade Alexander 21 run (Thomas Richard kick), 5:26 4Q
WP – Matthew Clay 12 pass from Jaden Chatman (no PAT), 0:00 4Q

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