CLARION - The gritty Cherokee Braves kept their heads down and just kept on choppin' wood against all the odds here Friday night and came away with a thrilling 21-20 Class 2A District win over undefeated Clarion-Goldfield five counties east of here on Iowa Highway 3.
Running out of the tricky double wing offense so many of today's Iowa high school coaches appear to prefer, the host Cowboys scored in the first quarter to take a 6-0 lead after speedy running back Cole Disney raced in from 11 yards out.
However, the Braves answered in the second quarter with a seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Pitts to Cutter Carlson on fourth down to take a 7-6 lead after Pitts's PAT kick. That was the score at halftime.
The Cowboys came back on a Ben Torres one-yard TD run in the third quarter after a sustained drive to take a 12-7 lead, before Cherokee answered in the same period on a five-yard run by Pitts after Justin Long recovered a Cowboy fumble inside the 10-yard line on a Cherokee punt and a jarring tackle by Alanzo Ruble that knocked the ball loose from the C-G runner.
The 4-0 Cowboys then tallied in the fourth on a three-yard TD run by Torres, and added a two-point conversion pass play to take a 20-14 lead.
Then, talented Cherokee junior Seth Mahnke stepped up his game at both ends of the ball to lead the Braves to the victory.
Mahnke intercepted a pass at his own 40-yard line midway into the final period, where the Braves began a 60-yard drive to sweet victory. That drive culminated in a 12-yard TD pass from Pitts to Mahnke and, with Pitts's PAT, gave the Braves the crucial win, with the Cherokee defense shutting down the explosive Cowboy offense the last few minutes.
"It was a great win on the road for us," said Cherokee co-head coach Kurt Reynolds. "We knew we had our hands full going in, but our kids made some plays when it counted. That last drive was real clean after Seth Mahnke got the pick and then caught the winning TD pass from Matt Pitts. That was huge for us. All the credit goes to the kids and how they executed when it counted."
The Braves rushed 33 times for 131 yards, with Pitts leading the way with 19 carries for 84 yards. Cutter Carlson carried the ball eight times for 26 yards. Pitts was 9-17 passing for 80 yards and two TDs with no picks.
Dan Bieber led Cherokee receivers with two catches for 36 yards, while Jakob Hummel had three catches for 12 yards, and Mahnke one catch for 12 yards and a TD. Leading receiver Kyle Schuck had one catch for five yards and was triple-teamed much of the night. "We just missed on three passes to Kyle that were just out of his reach, or they would have been big plays for us," explained Reynolds.
Cowboy QB Wyatt Sann was just 1-12 passing for 20 yards and two interceptions - one by Mahnke, and one by Pitts.
Dan Bieber led Cherokee's defense, figuring in on 18 tackles, while Carlson tallied 16, and Schuck and Hummel 10 apiece.
Cherokee had three penalties for 18 yards, and C-G had six for 30 yards.
"That was big for us," said Reynolds. "To play that clean of game...penalties just kill you, especially on the road. This was a real good road win against an undefeated team after a long trip. We knew Torres was a handful, but we shut them down when we needed to. We're very proud of the guys."
Cherokee takes a 3-2 record and a 2-1 District mark into Friday's Homecoming game against East Sac County in Cherokee. C-G proceeds with a 4-1 record and also stands 2-1 in District play.