Hardaway coach Morgan Ingram couldn't put the last six minutes into words.
His Hawks led 24-6 midway through the fourth quarter and were in control of the game. But Kendrick took advantage of two turnovers and a recovered an onside kick, giving them a chance to possibly win the game in the final minute Saturday night at Kinnett Stadium.
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But when Kris Carson’s fourth-down pass fell in front of his receiver, the Hawks had held on for a 24-20 win.
“I am speechless,” Ingram said of the closing minutes. “I can't put into words what happened.”
The Cherokees (1-2) got the ball back with 5:49 remaining in the game following a Hardaway fumble. On the first play, Carson completed a 29-yard pass to Tywan Myrick, who was tackled at the 1-yard line. Carson kept the ball and scored on the next play, cutting the lead to 20-12 with 5:17.
The Cherokees then recovered an onside kick, despite protests from the Hardaway coaches that the ball didn’t go 10 yards. Carson drove the Cherokees to the 11 before he was intercepted by Tre Hudson, which appeared to seal the game.
But on Hardaway’s first play, quarterback Marcus Smith fumbled and Kendrick recovered at the 2. Carson then scored his second rushing touchdown of the game. Carson found Cedric Chambers in the end zone for the 2-point conversion, trimming the lead to four.
Hardaway (2-1) recovered the next onside kick, but had to punt with 1:32 left. The Cherokees failed to pick up a first down, and the Hawks had prevailed.
The Cherokees’ inability to generate much offense in the first three quarters left them with too big of a deficit to overcome.
“We had too many mistakes,” Kendrick coach Ahmand Tinker said. “We were playing hard, but that doesn’t always lead to the results you are looking for. . . . We had too many guys that were undisciplined and didn’t take care of their assignments. That cost us the game.”
The Hardaway defense controlled the early going and gave the offense good field position. The Hawks took advantage of it and scored on three straight first-half possessions.
Starting on the Kendrick 25-yard line late in the first quarter, the Hawks failed to pick up a first down and settled for a Brandon Childs’ 37-yard field goal with no time left in the quarter.
Smith was responsible for the Hawks’ two touchdowns. He found freshman Austin Scott over the middle for an 11-yard score with 9:09 remaining in the half, giving Hardaway a 10-0 lead. Smith threw a fade pass to the end zone that Justin Cooper hauled in for a 25-yard touchdown.
“His biggest strength throwing the ball,” Ingram said. “We aren't going to run the option as much as that’s not his style.”
Kendrick didn’t pick up a first down until the middle of the second quarter. The Cherokees’ best offensive play came on a trick play following a timeout late in the first half. Kendrick ran a played called “Cherokee.”
Center Keith Carey snapped the ball to the Chambers, who was standing on the opposite hash mark and had nine other Cherokees in from of him. He picked up the ball and went 57 yards down the sideline to the 12. Tinker said he saw Arkansas run a similar play a couple of years ago.
Chambers scored three plays later on a 1-yard run, cutting the lead to 17-6 with 1:16 left in the half.
It was a fitting precursor in a game that had so many twists in the fourth quarter.
“That’s why we play — to win,” Ingram said. “We were able to do that tonight.”
Contact Robert Spruck at 706-576-6230