ZEPHYR – The Brookesmith Mustangs earned their first district championship since 1985, but their first postseason victory since 1955 will have to wait a little longer.
With leading rusher and second-leading tackler Avery Williford suffering a leg injury on the very first snap, District 15 champion Brookesmith was forced out of its comfort zone as the District 16 runner-up Cherokee Indians galloped to an 80-30 victory in Class A Division II Region IV bi-district action Thursday night.
“We weren’t expecting that at all,” said Brookesmith head coach Scott Edmondson. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance, but hat’s off to Cherokee, they’re good. One of our top players goes out early and we’re used to him scoring four or five touchdowns a game. When he’s not able to go and he couldn’t run on defense, I didn’t have him in there half of the defensive sets, it makes a big difference in the game.”
Cherokee (8-3) finished with 514 yards of total offense – sparked by 348 rushing yards and seven touchdowns from Tristian Arkansas, who also completed 3 of 5 passes for 99 yards and three more scores.
“He’s the best athlete I’ve seen in the last several years,” Edmondson said of Arkansas. “That kid is really good. We couldn’t get our hands on him, it was like playing tag. He’s an outstanding athlete.”
Brookesmith (7-3) mustered just 171 yards of total offense, and only 27 in the second half where the Mustangs were outscored 30-0 as Cherokee enforced the 45-point mercy rule with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
“We stayed with them as long as we could, we just made too many mistakes,” Edmondson said. “I have never seen us make that many mistakes, just dropping the ball, getting behind the chains and not being able to move the ball.”
With Williford hampered, Johnathan Willoughby shouldered the load on the ground with 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Zach Ferguson and Randall Williams connected on a pair of touchdown passes covering 73 yards.
Williford finished with 15 rushing yards on just four carries, while five mishandled exchanges in the backfield resulted in 54 yards lost for the Mustangs.
“It was a short practice week to begin with, then with (Williford) out we had to draw it in the dirt basically,” Edmondson said. “We were going to stuff we hadn’t run all year. We tried to run a few things that we had planned to do, we just didn’t have the blocking in the back that we needed. We ran a little bit more spread that we’re used to, we’re not really a spread team, and it hurt us when we couldn’t outrun them.”
Brookesmith grabbed an early 8-0 lead on a 40-yard scoring toss from Ferguson to Williams on the second play of the game, but Cherokee answered with the next three scores – on runs of 22, 12 and 37 yards by Arkansas – to open a 22-8 advantage with 3:03 left in the first period.
The Mustangs crept within 22-16 on another scoring connection from Ferguson to Williams that covered 33 yards, but the Indians responded with a 43-yard touchdown sprint from Arkansas as the score stood at 30-16 with 1:28 still remaining in the opening stanza.
Brookesmith fired back with the next two touchdowns as Willoughby broke free for a 48-yard scoring gallop, then Cherokee fumbled on the ensuing kick. The Mustangs recovered at the Brookesmith 37 and a seven-play, 43-yard trek ended with 1-yard plunge by Willoughby that tied the score at 30 with 8:07 left in the first half, following Williams’ two-point kick.
Those points turned out the be the last of the season for the Mustangs, as Cherokee reeled off the final 50 – including 20 more before the second period ended to take a 50-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Arkansas scored on carries of 44 and 14 yards prior to halftime, while Erick Miller rumbled into the end zone from 4 yards out.
The Indians tacked on four more touchdowns in the second half on scoring tosses of 30 and 27 yards from Arkansas to Miller, and a 42-yard pass from Arkansas to Joey Bond to close out the scoring. Cherokee also scored when Brookesmith failed to field a kickoff that was booted into the end zone and pounced on by the Indians’ Kase Bordner.
Despite the loss, Brookesmith’s season will be one for the record books.
“As bad as this night seems right now, I told the kids you’re still district champs and they’ll never take that away from you no matter how old you get,” Edmondson said. “They made history after 35 years, I’m proud of that, proud of this team, and it’s been a good season.”
Cherokee advances to face District 13 champion Calvert (8-2) – a 52-0 winner over District 14 runner-up Dime Box (5-3) Thursday night – in the Class A Division II Region IV semifinals next week.