High school football returned to Georgia on Wednesday and in the opening game of the Corky Kell Classic presented by Atlanta & North Georgia Building Trades Council, host Cherokee took an early lead before taking full advantage in the second half to overwhelm Carver-Atlanta 38-12.
The game opened the high school football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic and if you focused on the field and not the stadium — limited to a 25% capacity of masked onlookers – things almost seemed normal. As most teams do, there were struggles early on in the first game. However, this season. things feel different.
“Well, we have a long way to go,” said Cherokee coach Josh Shaw. “We played the first half much like not having a spring or a fall scrimmage. But we were able to get some kinks ironed out in the third quarter.”
When junior Keegan Baker returned the punt with 5:44 left in the game to put Cherokee up 38-6, it was merely insurance.
“I think, just with the time off and being the first game in the state to be able to have that opportunity, it was tremendous,” Shaw said. “Carver was really good defensively and they gave us some issues in the first half and we were able to get some stuff and establish the run game in the third quarter.”
The Warriors built their lead with a 9-play, 51-yard drive and a 21-yard field goal by Joel Stahl with 8:05 left in the first quarter. Then, with :58 left in the first quarter, Keith Adams Jr., the son of the former Clemson great Keith Adams, found the endzone after a 3-yard run to cap a 5-play, 57-yard drive to give the Warriors a 10-0 lead.
On the second-to-last series of the first half, Cherokee quarterback AJ Swann left the field with an arm injury. At the half, Swann was seen on the sidelines with his arm in a sleeve.
In the third quarter, the Warriors pushed the lead with touchdown runs from Alonzo Upshaw and Adams Jr before a scare when Adams Jr. went down after a big hit with 10 minutes left in the quarter. While the focus was on Adams, Swann returned to the field in his uniform and took control.
“It was extremely warm with a 5:30 p.m. kickoff, we had a lot of guys struggle with the heat,” Shaw said. “When this is your first competitive situation since last November…. A lot of times we get to this point in the year, you’ve been through 7-on-7’s in the summer and you’re a bit better conditioned. And that was Keith, we had to pull him. He was locking up all over the place with cramps. Now AJ, he landed strange and had some pain in his peck muscle. But, he is hard to tell to sit on the bench, so I had him throw me a few balls and he went back in.”
In the fourth quarter, Carver scored on a 56-yard pass from Lorenza Lennon to Tobais Robinson and on a short run by Adam Sheely, but the game was out of reach. With 7:34 left, Swann connected with Adam Fullen on a 67-yard touchdown pass to put the Warriors up 31-6 before Baker’s punt return with 5:44 left.
Adams Jr. had 18 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Swann was 7-of-12 passing for 156 yards and a touchdown. Baker and Riley Lyons each grabbed an interception for Cherokee. Lennon was 12-of-30 passing for 232 yards and one touchdown for Carver. Demetrius Hinton made one interception for Carver.