A game set up to be a close showdown between two teams vying for the final playoff spot in Region 5-AA instead became a proving ground for a team ready to make its mark at the state level.
A year after clinching its first playoff berth since 1999, the Kendrick Cherokees made it two in a row with a 28-8 win over Spencer in the regular season finale on Friday at Kinnett Stadium. More than just a playoff berth, Kendrick earned the No. 3 seed in the region and clinched its first winning season since 1995.
“I’m so proud of those guys,” coach Jerry Dukes said after the game. “We challenged them this week, and they did all the things we asked them to do. I’m just proud.”
The Cherokees will travel to either Model or Dade County in the opening round of the playoffs next Friday.
Kendrick has found plenty of ways to win this season, doing it with offense, defense and a combination of the two.
On Friday, more than anything, it took a little patience.
Neither team could muster any offense through the majority of the game’s first half. They traded possessions, occasionally picking up good yardage, only to stall a few plays later.
Finally, the Cherokees started a drive in Spencer territory with less than 10 minutes remaining in the half. It chipped slowly away at the Greenwave defense, moving 20 yards in seven plays, an average of less than 3 yards per play.
Finally, on the eighth, a fourth-and-13 from the 28-yard line, quarterback Jonathan Hines hit receiver Antonio Jones on a short pass to the right side. Jones caught the ball about 7 yards downfield, shook a potential tackler and saw nothing but green. He jogged the final 15 yards of the 28-yard scoring strike to put Kendrick ahead 6-0.
That score opened the gates as Kendrick forced a three-and-out and took only three plays to reach the end zone again on its ensuing drive. This time, it was a 28-yard run by running back Reno Lee.
An interception by Loyoll Parks six plays into Spencer’s next drive set Kendrick up at the Spencer 16, and Parks finished the job with a 22-yard touchdown reception from Hines.
After nearly 19 minutes of scoreless football, Kendrick scored 20 in just over five minutes to take control at halftime.
“We just had to be patient,” Dukes said. “Our guys did a terrific job on defense and we’ve got to give the offensive line credit, too. They did a great job blocking up front.”
Kendrick held the ball for the vast majority of the second half, running 16 plays on its first drive out of the break before turning the ball over on a fumble. The fumble didn’t hurt as the Kendrick defense held, and the Cherokees had already run nine minutes off the clock.
Lee punched in a 5-yard run with just over three minutes remaining in the game to make it 28-0 and effectively put the game out of reach for Spencer.
Lee finished with over 100 yards rushing and two scores. Hines completed only two passes, but both went for touchdowns. Parks finished with two interceptions and a receiving touchdown.
Kendrick began the season 2-4, but finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, its longest since 1998.
Spencer scored late on a 43-yard pass from Tarvaraska Davis to Patrick Jones.
The loss ended Spencer’s season a game short of where it had hoped to be, which was in the playoffs.
It entered Friday’s game trying to make the playoffs for its first time in 20 years and earn a winning season for the first time in 36. The fact it didn’t doesn’t diminish what it was able to accomplish this season.
It won five games for the first time since 2007 and improved its win total for the fourth consecutive season.
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Friday at Kinnett
Spencer 0 0 0 8—8
Kendrick 0 20 0 8—28
K—Antonio Jones 28 pass from Jonathan Hines (Run failed); 5:43
K—Reno Lee 28 run (Run failed); 3:09
K—Loyoll Parks 22 pass from Hines (Emmanuel Brown pass from Hines); :07
K—Lee 5 run (Lee run); 3:13
S—Patrick Jones 43 pass from Tarvaraska Davis (Darrius Lightfoot run); 2:30
Records: Spencer, 5-5, 4-4; Kendrick, 6-4, 5-3. Next: Spencer, season over; Kendrick, Friday at Model.