DEL CITY â€” Three years ago the Cherokee football program was 0-10. Next Saturday night, the Chiefs will be playing for their first championship.
Sparked by a stifling defense and an efficient running game, Cherokee was dominant in winning 46-12 in a Class B semifinal against top-ranked Dewar on Saturday afternoon at Kalsu Stadium.
â€œThis is a great feeling,â€ senior quarterback Justin Schanbacher said. â€œThis community has been behind us the entire way. Now we have to finish the job.â€
Schanbacher is one of 10 seniors that still remember that winless 2007 season. Those days are long gone after this season.
Cherokee hadn't made the playoffs since 1999, but a Week 2 win against then-No. 1-ranked Laverne showed this team was going to be a force. Cherokee gets a chance to finish the job next Saturday at Stillwater High against Wetumka in the Class B final.
Dewar struck early to take a 6-0 lead, but Cherokee never flinched.
â€œWe've been in this position before, so we weren't too worried about it,â€ Schanbacher said. â€œWe had a good game plan, and we stuck to it.â€
Leading the way was Schanbacher. He rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for another. He came up with some big plays on defense, including breaking up two passes that could have led to big Dewar gains.
But Schanbacher wasn't alone. The Dewar running game was stopped in a big way. The Dragons only rushed for 68 yards on 35 carries in the first three quarters before earning some yards on the ground when Cherokee had a huge lead.
â€œJustin gets a lot of the attention, but we have a lot of guys who have stepped up all season and do their job well,â€ coach Bryan Schanbacher said.
Cherokee senior Chase Wallace added two touchdowns on the ground as the Chiefs rushed for 321 yards.
Dewar's Micah McGowen scored from 4 yards out on the second play of the game. However, he injured his leg on the next drive, and the offense was never the same. The Dragons end the season at 12-1.