By Chris Siers
BELL BUCKLE — After being held to just three possessions in the first half of Friday night’s Region 4-2A matchup against Cannon County (2-7, 0-3), the Champs (5-3, 2-0) pitched a second-half shutout and gave the senior class a 28-22 Senior Night victory.
“That’s a pretty good ball team we played. Our guys came out in the second half and played solid football offensively and solid football defensively,” Champion coach Jake Tyre said.
It was tough sledding for the Champs through much of the first half, as Cannon County’s game plan was to milk the clock and limit Cascade’s possessions.
The plan worked as Cascade had just three, first-half offensive possessions.
The Lions’ first drive went 14 plays and drained 7:22 off the game clock.
The drive ended with a Brayden Smithson 3-yard burst into the end zone and a Jack Byford extra point put the visitors up 7-0, late in the opening frame.
Cascade responded on fourth and 1 from the Champs’ own 48-yard line when Sawyer Lovvorn took a direct snap and wriggled through the line for 52 yards for his first of three touchdowns on the night.
Senior quarterback Damian Byford added a successful 2-point conversion to give the Champs an 8-7 lead.
Cannon County’s second drive of the night nearly mirrored its first, going 11 plays and drained another five minutes of time off the clock before quarterback Kolby Miller connected with Tucker Kyne.
A successful 2-point run put the Lions up 15-8 with less than nine minutes remaining in the half.
Both teams scored again in the half—Cascade on a 17-yard Sawyer Lovvorn run, but the conversion attempt failed, leaving the Lions in front, 15-14 with five minutes left.
Miller went to the air for his second score of the night on a 36-yard pass down the sideline to Eli Garrett and after the PAT, Cannon County firmly held control, 22-14.
Still being a one-possession game, the Champs put together a seemingly strong drive.
With just 1:13 on the clock, Byford did a little bit of everything for Cascade on the drive, connecting with wide out Saebyn Burris on a 9-yard pickup and Lovvorn on a 23-yard strike.
A scramble inside the 5-yard line by Byford seemingly gave the Champs an opportunity to even the score, but a handful of penalties and a sack backed the Champs up to the 33-yard line.
On third down, Byford connected with Lovvorn on an 8-yard pass, setting up a 42-yard field goal try that missed left of the upright.
“We had three possessions and that’s not a whole lot. They milk the clock and had some good plays. We took advantage of every opportunity, we just came out a little flat,” Tyre said.
Things appeared to continue to sway in favor of the Lions into the second half.
On just their fourth possession of the game, Cascade was held to a three and out to open the third quarter and a tipped punt set the Lions up with first down on the 44-yard line.
As before, Cannon County made no attempt to hurry up the clock and put together another lengthy drive that pushed to the Cascade 11-yard
But a Cannon County penalty and a sack from Lovvorn, who shot out of a cannon to sack Miller for a 16-yard loss prompted the Lions to go for it.
On fourth down from the Cascade 36-yard line, it was Byford who came up with a key pass break up to give the Champs the ball back with 2:39 left in the third.
The following drive marched well into Lion territory until Lovvorn took a direct snap and burst through the line for his third score of the night, but the following conversion attempt failed, leaving the visitors on top, 22-20.
With 10:30 left in the game, Cascade opted for an onside kick, which was recovered by Joel Anthony, completely shifting the momentum in favor of the Champs.
“Coach (Sanders) Lovvorn made a great play on that onside kick. He does a great job on special teams and he made a great call right there,” Tyre said.
Having put the Lion defense on its heels over the previous drive, a steady dose of Lovvorn and Hayden Dowell kept the chains moving and on second down from the Lion 18-yard line, Byford found a crease and streaked to paydirt for the final score of the night.
On the conversion attempt after, Lovvorn lined up and appeared to take a direct snap, but a jump pass to Isaac Chapa gave Cascade the successful 2-point attempt.
“We’ve run that play in practice every day, just about. That’s the first reception he (Chapa) has ever had and first points he’s ever scored,” Tyre said.
Cascade had a chance to extend its lead to two possessions, following a three and out by Cannon County, but the drive stalled inside the 20, prompting another field goal.
The attempt, however, missed and gave the ball back to Cannon County with just over three minutes left.
While Cannon County had been able to run the ball and take its time, the Lions prompted to go to a passing attack, but the Cascade defense forced three-straight incompletions and forced a turnover on downs, allowing the Champs to retain possession and run out the clock.
“We’ve got to finish that drive we had with six minutes to go. We’ve locked up the playoffs for sure now. We have to go out and try to reach our season goal. It’s 1-0 every week and we have to keep on playing,” Tyre said.
Lovvorn was the workhorse for the Champs, totaling 149 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns. He added another three receptions for 57 yards as well.
Burris made four grabs for 33 yards and Byford completed 7-of-11 attempts for 90 yards, and added another 75 rushing yards on eight carries.
In total, Cascade totaled 339 yards of offense, with 249 yards coming on the ground.
Friday night marked the final regular season home game for 14 Champion seniors.
“They’ve done a good job. Four-straight years in the playoffs. They brought the program back to where we’re competing. It’s fun to see. This is a really special group because they’ve all stuck with it. These 14 have played their hearts out and I can’t ask anything more than that,” Tyre said.
Those 14 have carried the leadership role and have the Champs in the driver’s seat with two region games left on the schedule.
Friday’s win over Cannon County secured at least a third-place finish in the region standings, but a win against either Fayetteville City or Marion County will guarantee the Champs a home Class 2A playoff game for the first time since the 2011 season.
“That’s all you ask as a coach. We’re not relying on anyone else or waiting to the last game of the season to get that win, so that pressure is off your back a little bit. Now we control how we finish. It’s on us how we finish,” Tyre said.
Cascade will travel to Fayetteville on Friday night before closing the regular season at Marion County next week.
Cannon Co. 7 15 0 0 — 22
Cascade 8 6 0 14 — 28
CC — Brayden Smithson 3 run, (Jack Byford kick), 4:38.
C — Sawyer Lovvorn 52 run, (Damian Byford 2pt. run), 2:28.
CC — Tucker Kyne 24 pass from Kolby Miller, (Miller 2pt. run), 8:49.
C — Lovvorn 17 run, (2pt. pass failed) 4:55.
CC — Eli Garrett 36 pass from Miller, (Byford kick), 1:13.
C — Lovvorn 4 run, (2pt. run failed), 10:30.
C — Byford 18 run, (Isaac Chapa 2pt. pass from Lovvorn), 7:23.