It's a long time coming, but the Kendrick Cherokees are headed back to the state playoffs.
Kendrick had three 100-yard rushers and overcame a severe case of fumbleitis to hold off Spencer, 24-20, Friday night at Memorial Stadium to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 1999.
"These kids refused to quit tonight," said Kendrick coach Jerry Dukes, whose players celebrated with fans in the bleachers following the win. "They had something to play for tonight with the state playoffs and a five-win season. There was a lot of sentimental reasons to play hard tonight and I'm so proud of my kids."
Kendrick (5-5, 5-3 Region 5-AA) clinched its first season of at least five wins since 2001 and the Cherokees now travel to No. 9 Jefferson (9-1) for the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs next week.
"Our principal has a motto that talks about bringing Kendrick back to greatness and that's what we want to do with our athletic programs as well," said Dukes, who is in his fifth year as head coach. "That's what this is all about. I haven't seen this kind of enthusi
asm in the time I've been here."
The win didn't come easy for the Cherokees, as they fumbled the ball four times in the first half, losing three of them. One of the fumbles came as a Kendrick running back was running into the end zone, snuffing out a potential scoring drive.
Spencer (3-7, 3-5) converted one of those fumbles into the first touchdown of the game, driving 54 yards in five plays before Taliq Griffin finished it off with a 2-yard run. The extra point was no good, but the Greenwave still held a 6-0 lead after the opening period.
It stayed 6-0 until late in the second quarter, when Kendrick took advantage of a short field to score. Starting on the Spencer 38 following a short punt, the Cherokees took seven play to score on a 4-yard run by Reno Lee with 4:28 to go before halftime. Lee ran in the two-point conversion as well, giving the Cherokees an 8-6 halftime advantage.
The third quarter was consumed by a pair of non-scoring drives, as Kendrick took almost seven minutes off the clock before turning the ball over at Spencer's 15-yard line and the Greenwave were denied after having a first-and-goal on Kendrick's 6.
Following its defensive stand, the Cherokees took just three plays to take control of the momentum, getting a 38-yard touchdown run from Travonte Chambers and a two-point conversion run by Chambers to go up 16-6 with 8:15 left in the game.
Spencer responded with a 58-yard drive of its own, with quarterback Tarvaraska Davis hitting Patrick Jones with a 9-yard touchdown pass to get the Greenwave back to within 16-13 with 6:13 remaining.
Kendrick's powerful ground game kept pounding away at the Greenwave and this time it was Brandon Wade's turn as he rambled 43 yards for a touchdown to cap off a three-play, 79-yard drive that took just over a minute off the clock. Like Lee and Chambers before him, Wade ran in the two-point conversion, giving the Cherokees a 24-13 lead with 5:09 still showing on the clock.
Down two scores and with time running out, Spencer was forced to go to the air and Davis got his second touchdown pass of the night, this one a 15-yard strike to Deondre Hubbard on a fourth-and-goal play. However, the Greenwave elected to kick the extra point instead of going for two, leaving Spencer still down by four points at 24-20 with 3:42 to go and only one timeout remaining.
Kendrick made the coaching decision a moot point, though, as the Cherokees got two first downs and were able to run out the clock. For the game, the trio of Lee, Wade and Chambers finished with 372 yards on 41 carries. Lee led the way with 133 yards on 16 carries, Wade had 127 yards on 17 totes and Chambers racked up 112 yards on just eight carries.
"The way we ran the ball tonight is a tribute to our offensive linemen," said Dukes. "We've said since the start of the season that how we do will come down to our offensive and defensive line. The line opened the holes and our backs ran hard. It was just a complete game and I'm just proud of my kids."
Damarkus Robins had 103 rushing yards on 15 carries and two catches for 17 yards for the Greenwave. Davis was 9-of-20 for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Blaze Coaxum was Davis' top target with three catches for 56 yards.
at Memorial Stadium
Kendrick 0 8 0 16--24
Spencer 6 0 0 14--20
Spencer-- Taliq Griffin 2 run (Kick failed), 1:27.
Kendrick-- Reno Lee 4 run (Lee run), 4:28.
Kendrick-- Travonte Chambers 38 run (Chambers run), 8:15.
Spencer-- Patrick Jones 9 pass from Tarvaraska Davis (Jose Facio kick), 6:13.
Kendrick-- Brandon Wade 43 run (Wade run), 5:09.
Spencer-- Deondre Hubbard 15 pass from Davis (Facio kick), 3:42.
Records: Kendrick 5-5, 5-3 Region 5-AA; Spencer 3-7, 3-5. Next: Kendrick at Jefferson (Class AA State Playoffs First Round, Nov. 16)