With a 12-0 win over Dade County in the first round of the playoffs last Friday, Kendrick ended years of playoff futility. Not since 1995 had the Cherokees tasted victory in the postseason. The win was a major step in the right direction for the program, coach Jerry Dukes said. But not the final step. Not even close to the final step.
“It’s good to have gotten over that first hump, sure,” he said. “The thing now is to try and take that next step. We don’t want this to just be our first time into the second round. We want to get in and surprise some folks.”
And what a surprise it would be.
Kendrick draws in the second round Lovett, considered by many to be Class AA’s top team. Already this season, the Lions (10-1) have scored victories against Woodward Academy (9-2), Blessed Trinity (8-3), Marist (9-2), St. Pius X (8-3) and Greater Atlanta Christian (10-1). Its only loss came by three points in overtime against Washington County (10-0).
It may be the most impressive resume of any team in the classification, so Dukes understands if others may be a little skeptical. Just don’t count his team among that group.
“Our kids believe in each other,” he said. “That’s all that matters. They can only put 11 guys on the field at one time just like us. I’ll put our 11 against their 11 anytime.”
He trusts his guys because of their commitment to fundamental football, something that has been a focus all season long. “Blocking and tackling” has been Dukes’ mantra, a simple yet effective approach for a progressing team.
“What we did well (last week) was what we’ve worked on all year,” Dukes said. “Blocking and tackling. That’s what we’ve said all year. That’s still what we’re working on this week. We have to play sound fundamental football against a good team like this.”
Linebacker Marvin Lewis smiled when he was asked what it would take to compete with Lovett on Friday.
“Fundamental defense,” he said. “Blocking and tackling.”
Dukes’ message has clearly gotten across to the Cherokees.
Now, despite the obvious difficulty of the task in front of them, the Cherokees hope they can send another message. After a 2-4 start, they have won five in a row and have their most wins since 1995. They’re not even close to being ready to call it a season.
If they lose, few around the state will bat an eye. As previously state, Lovett has already cemented itself among the shortlist of contenders for this year’s Class AA state title.
But if Kendrick could match up with them on the field, find some success and maybe, just maybe, give itself a chance in the fourth quarter, it would catch the attention of a lot of people around the state.
“People don’t believe we can get on the field and play with them,” Dukes said. “We believe, though. We’re motivated to make some other folks believe, too.”
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