E.A. Sports Today

Down to the wire

Cherokee County stops No. 7 Anniston in closing seconds, denies Bulldogs first 4-0 start since 2003

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

CENTRE – Cherokee County High School football coach Jacob Kelley felt CJ Gresham needed to get more touches in the Warrior game plan. 

On Friday night against Class 4A, Region 4 rival Anniston, Gresham, a senior transfer from Saks, got those touches, and he made the most of them.

Gresham ran for 145 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns, including a 2-yard run with 8:24 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ 21-20 victory. But the game hinged on their defense making a stop in the closing seconds.

They got that stop when the Warrior ‘D’ stopped Anniston quarterback Kam Sandlin on a third-down 12-yard run in bounds at the 6. The seventh-ranked Bulldogs could never get lined up for another play as time expired and the victory belonged to Cleburne County.

“That’s what high school football is about,” Kelley said. “These guys … it was about earning respect tonight. We showed up for a fight and we got it. Man, it was just a great atmosphere. What better way to bring this (new artificial turf) field in with something like that? That will go down in ages right there. The win for this community, for these guys, it says it all.

“I can’t say enough about how gutsy they played to the end. We bent but we didn’t break. I’m proud as heck of them.”

It literally did come down to the wire and everyone was holding their breath.

“I’m looking at the scoreboard and I was like ‘They’ve still got to get a play off,’” said Gresham, who also plays defensive back for the Warriors. “I was like ‘They’re not going to get it off.’ We were just so happy to win.”

 “We were prepping him for a couple of weeks, just getting him ready for an opportunity like tonight,” Kelley said. “He stepped up in a big way. He was feeling it tonight. He wanted the ball, and winners want the ball.”

Gresham wasn’t the only Warrior senior who had a big night running the ball. Damien Ramsey accumulated 122 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown in the first quarter. It was his 27-yard run down to the 2 in the fourth quarter that set up Gresham’s go-ahead score.

“I was like ‘We need this touchdown,’” Ramsey said. “I got the ball, seen a gap, and I just hit that gap as hard as I could and went through it. CJ came in big tonight. Tonight he just went crazy. He went off and helped us big time in the running game.”

Gresham’s second touchdown of the night, along with Daniel Mejia’s extra point, gave the Warriors (2-1, 1-0 Region 4) a 21-14 lead with 8:24 remaining in the game. But the Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1) battled back on their ensuing drive.

Malachi Taylor took a Sandlin handoff to the right side. With nothing open there, he reversed field and dashed 56 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Bulldogs within a point at 21-20.

Like they had each of the other two times they scored, the Bulldogs went for two. A false start penalty brought the try back five yards. Sandlin called his own number on a run and fell short of the end zone.

Another Bulldog penalty – this time a personal foul on the kickoff – gave the Warriors the ball at midfield with just over six minutes remaining. However, Anniston’s defense forced the Warriors to punt the ball back.

The Bulldogs began their final drive at their own 16. The drive got off to a promising start as Sandlin connected with junior receiver Jaylon Cunningham on a 29-yard pass completion. A 25-yard Sandlin-to-Antonio Kite completion later in the drive brought the ball to the Warrior 13 with 25.1 seconds left. The Bulldogs then took their final timeout.

Two Sandlin incomplete pass attempts, and a 5-yard Anniston penalty brought up a third-and-long situation with 16.5 seconds to go. Sandlin took off on a 12-yard run down the right side of the field, but when the Bulldogs finally got set for one final play the clock had expired, prompting a jubilant celebration on the Warrior sideline, and two ice dunkings of Kelley.

“It feels great,” Kelley said. “The relationship we have with our players is something special. We work five days a week. We started the Monday we got back from Mobile Christian (in a first-round playoff loss last year). We’ve spent a lot of time together. We believe in our guys and they believe in us as coaches. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Sandlin, who completed 15-of-24 pass attempts for 178 yards, got the Bulldogs on the board first with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kite. Jamarius Billingsley’s run for the 2-point conversion fell short, keeping the score at 6-0 Bulldogs.

The Warriors responded with Ramsey’s 6-yard touchdown run to end the first quarter. Mejia’s extra point put the Warriors ahead 7-6, which was the halftime score.

Anniston went back out in front with 7:12 remaining in the third quarter on Taylor’s 9-yard touchdown run. This time, another Billingsley rush for two was good, giving the Bulldogs a 14-7 edge.

Gresham helped tie the game with a 33-yard scoring run with 3:21 left in the third, then helped give the Warriors the lead for good with his 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth, denying Anniston its first 4-0 start since 2003.

“The game plan was to go right at them and match their physicality with what we thought we could do with them,” Kelley said. “We thought we could be just as physical. That was the game plan coming in. There were times we were able to enforce our will. We had them where we felt like they were tired. We’ve just got to be more consistent. We’re not perfect by any means, but hat’s off to the guys for controlling the line of scrimmage.”

Shannon Fagan is Sports Director of WEIS radio in Centre. Cover photo of Anniston quarterback Kam Sandlin trying to avoid a Cherokee County defender by Shannon Fagan.

Cherokee County 21, Anniston 20

Anniston (3-1, 1-1)6086 —20
Cherokee Co. (2-1, 1-0)7077 —21

A — Antonio Kite 25 pass from Kam Sandlin (run failed), 4:13 1Q
C — Damien Ramsey 6 run (Daniel Mejia kick), 1:50 1Q
A — Malachi Taylor 9 run (Jamarius Billingsley run), 7:12 3Q
C — CJ Gresham 33 run (Daniel Mejia kick), 3:21 3Q
C — CJ Gresham 2 run (Daniel Mejia kick), 8:24 4Q
A — Malachi Taylor 56 run (run failed)

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