Good teams find a way.
Now, if they will believe that, the sky's the limit for an over-achieving band of Cherokee Braves who cemented their previously secured Class 2A State Football Playoff berth with an incredible 35-34 double overtime victory over Sheldon's feisty Orabs here Friday night.
The 6-3 Braves (6-1 in District play) finished second in District 1, losing only to rugged champion conglomerate Central Lyon/George Little Rock, whose lone setback was to undefeated Class 3A District 1 champion Le Mars in the first game of the season.
Sheldon, the 2A State runner-up last year, came to town with a 5-3 record, with District losses to Central Lyon/George Little Rock, and Sioux Center, and a non-district setback to Le Mars. Color the Orange & Black 5-4.
Playing as if it was their State Playoff game here Friday night, the tough Orabs went toe to toe with Cherokee throughout, unleashing a potent running game that befuddled the Braves time and again.
But, good teams find a way.
In the first overtime, the Braves kept Sheldon out of the end zone and then elected to kick a field goal on first down with reliable kicker Andy Dawson, reliable holder Josh Mugge, and a reliable Braves line that has sucked it up all season to allow Dawson time to unleash his powerful foot.
BUT! Best laid plans sometimes go astray, and the solid reasoning behind the first-down kick failed as Dawson pulled the 27-yard field goal wide.
But, you can't keep a good man down. Not only did Dawson pound in the winning touchdown on a one-yard run after the Orabs scored a TD and missed the vital PAT in the second OT, he added the crucial PAT kick to give Cherokee the win.
Trailing 28-14 late in the third quarter, it looked grim for the Braves, but their explosive passing offense and gun-slinger mentality kept the Orabs on edge and ultimatley allowed the big comeback victory.
The Braves scored in the first quarter on a five-yard TD pass from Tyler Jones to Chris Campbell, in the second period on an 18-yard TD pass from Jones to Campbell, in the third quarter ona 25-yard TD passd from Jones to Michael Boothby, and in the fourth on an eight-yard TD pass from Jones to Campbell.
Sheldon tallied TDs in the first and second frames, and two in the third to take that short-lived 28-14 lead. Orab TDs came on a three-yard pass from QB Stephen Kirschbaum to pesky running back Nick Pulscher, a five-yard run by Pulscher, a two-yard run by Jacob Crowl, a five-yard run by Pulscher, and a 10-yard run by Pulscher in the second OT. The PAT missed after that score, which set the stage for Cherokee's heroic win.
Jones, the state's leading passer, completed 37-58 passes for 404 yards, four TDs and three interceptions. Kirschbaum was 8-17 passing for 302 yards, one TD and one interception, that from Matthew Boothby, who returned it 20 yards to help set up the Braves all-important tying TD in the fourth period.
The strong Orab running game netted 358 yards oon an whopping 72 carries. Pulscher led the way with 32 hauls for 174 yards, and Jacob Crowl had 28 carries for 126 yards.
Leading receivers for the Braves were Campbell 11 catches for 110 yards and three TDs, Boothby eight catches for 99 yards and a TD, Mark Johnson 10 catches for 90 yards, Kyle Schuett five catches for 75 yards, and Matt Koch three catches for 30 yards.
With that powerful running game, Sheldon tallied 24 first downs and the Braves had 19.
Leading tacklers for the hustling Braves were Josh Mugge 20, Nick Daum and Tim Jones 19 apiece, Ben George and Dawson 14 each, and Johnson and Nick Loughlin nine each. When the opponent rushes 72 times, tackles mount, and credit must go to the Braves and the afore-mentioned warriors.
"We found a way, Baby!" said a pleased Cherokee coach Tony Napierala. "It looked grim in the second half for the second week in a row, and we found a way. The credit goes to our kids. They adjust and they listen and they don't give up.
"We started to stop their big pass plays. Our defense played really well in the second half. Michael Carlson had a huge blocked punt for us that led to our TD in the fourth that tied the game. We made some stops and that enabled us to win the game. I'm very proud of this team. We shoot ourselves in the foot and then find a way to win the game. They're a special group."