ROSWELL, Ga. — Roswell continued its undefeated season Oct. 23, coming from behind to defeat Cherokee in a televised battle between two unbeaten powers in Region 5-7A.
The Hornets (6-0, 2-0) entered the game ranked No. 7 in 7A by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while Cherokee was ranked at No. 6.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Roswell head coach Chris Prewett said. “We knew it was going to be close and be a battle. They did a great job, and it was a true heavyweight fight there.”
Cherokee (6-1, 1-1) received the opening kick and moved its way down field in short chunks from screen passes and tough running by junior halfback Keith Adams Jr.
The Roswell defense bent, but it didn’t break. On fourth-and-2 from the 26-yard line, the Hornets came up with a stop and brought Adams down short of the first down.
The Hornets were forced to punt on the ensuing drive, but the special teams unit came up big when Roswell’s Connor Moore recovered a fumble at the 18-yard line.
The next play, Roswell quarterback Robbie Roper kept the snap and ran 18 yards for a touchdown to give Roswell the first lead of the game.
Cherokee countered with a score on its next drive after quarterback A.J. Swann evaded Roswell defenders and found an open receiver for a 69-yard touchdown.
The Hornets responded with a quick score, set up by a 63-yard pass down the sideline from Roper to Marquis Willis. With the ball at the 5-yard line, Roper hit junior receiver Shaun Spence on a quick slant route for a touchdown to put Roswell back on top.
Again, Cherokee countered with a touchdown of its own. The Warriors tied the game, 14-14 on a 24-yard touchdown pass by Swann.
Roper and Spence hooked up again for another score, this time on a 12-yard touchdown pass, for the Hornets’ third touchdown on consecutive drives to take a 21-14 lead with five minutes left in the half.
Cherokee’s offense had one more scoring drive left in the tank for the first half. It took its time, and Swann ended the Warriors’ drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, 21-21.
Following a Roswell punt on the opening drive of the second half, the Warriors took the lead for the first time on a 5-yard touchdown run by Adams on fourth down.
Roswell came back and scored quickly, thanks in part to a kick return by Marquis Willis that set up the Hornets inside Cherokee territory. It was Willis who found pay dirt later in the drive after he took a short pass from Roper and bulldozed a defender for a 10-yard touchdown to tie the contest, 28-28.
After the Hornets forced a punt by Cherokee with 8 minutes left in the game, Roper and the offense took over at their own 30-yard line with a chance to put Roswell in front. The Hornets saved their best drive for last, as they methodically marched down the field, working the clock. With just over 2 minutes left in the game, junior running back Ryan Hill rushed for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line to put Roswell in the lead for good.
“We told them at halftime to keep playing and continue to fight and keep working,” Prewett said. “I’m glad we were able to pull it out.”
The Hornets received a boost all night long from their two-headed monster in the backfield. Hill rushed 15 times for 81 yards and one crucial touchdown, and fellow junior running back Ryan Stephens rushed seven times for 32 yards.
“[The running backs] work really hard, and they have a good offensive line in front of them to help make some good holes,” Prewett said. “They ran hard and were fighting for extra yards, they were in the right spots and they always protected the ball. You can’t really ask for more.”
Roper carried the ball five times for 29 yards and a touchdown in addition to his 184 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Spence reeled in four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns, and Willis caught three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
The Hornets have a bye before a Nov. 6 road contest against longtime rival and new-region foe Milton (5-1, 2-0). It’s a matchup that needs no added implications for the sake of hype, but when the Hornets and Eagles face off that night for the 66th time in history, they will likely be playing for the top spot in Reg. 5-7A.
“That game is always big,” Prewett said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re in the same region or not or have COVID going on or not. That game is the season for some of our fans. It’s going to be a good game regardless, and we got to fight it out for one and two, I guess.”