By Chris Siers
FAYETTEVILLE — After settling in and pitching a second-half shutout, the Cascade Champions (5-4, 2-1) put themselves in position to win at Fayetteville City on Friday night, but a couple of key plays ultimately secured the win for the Tigers (4-5, 2-1) in the 15-9 Region 4-2A thriller.
“We put ourselves in positions to win the game tonight. I tell the guys before every game we have to have 100% effort. We played a great game tonight, without a win,” Cascade coach Jake Tyre said.
After trailing 15-3 at the half, the Champions played a near-perfect game on the defensive side of the ball and held the electric Fayetteville offense scoreless for the second half.
Cascade struggled to get its run game going through much of the first half and things appeared to be heading that way following the first drive of the second half.
But on third down from the Fayetteville 25, the Tigers fumbled the ball and it was Jacob Cagle who came up with the recovery on the Fayetteville 31-yard line.
After the recovery, it was Cascade bruiser Sawyer Lovvorn who carried the ball seven-straight times before punching the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line.
The kick after, howeve
fzr, was blocked, leaving the score at 15-9.
“He (Lovvorn) was just able to get going. He’s like a locomotive. He’ll get two or three, then bust off a 10 or 15-yarder. We needed to get that going in the first half. We made a couple of adjustments with our blocking scheme and it helped us out,” Tyre said.
Fayetteville responded with a 10-play drive that pressed to the Champion 16-yard line, but the Cascade defense bowed up and forced two-straight incompletions from Tiger quarterback Sam Willoughby, which turned the ball over on downs with 38 seconds left in the third quarter.
Having fed off the defensive momentum, the Champs forced a three and out and after a Tiger punt, set up possession near mid-field.
Leaning on a steady diet of Lovvorn in the run game, Cascade pushed to the Tiger 14-yard line, prompting Tyre and the Champs to go for it.
Senior quarterback Damian Byford lined up to sneak the ball, but the Tiger defensive front denied the attempt and forced Cascade to turn the ball over on downs with 5:11 left in the game.
After the failed fourth-down conversion attempt, Fayetteville took possession and flipped the field on a 12-play drive before turning the ball over on downs once again on the Cascade 20, with just 31 seconds left.
While Cascade was able to hold the Tigers out of the end zone yet again, the Champs simply didn’t have enough time to drive the length of the field, following the defensive stand.
“Defense played lights out tonight. Other than a couple of blown coverages, the defense played absolutely perfect. We didn’t make the plays when we needed to make them, but I can’t say how proud of I am of the effort from these guys tonight,” Tyre said.
Fayetteville grabbed the early lead in the first quarter after a fourth and short turned into a 29-yard pickup by fullback Calvin Hughes.
Six plays later, Willoughby found the end zone on a 3-yard run and a successful pass on the conversion attempt put the Tigers up 8-0.
Mid-way through the second quarter, Cascade took possession on the Tiger 42-yard line with just under 10 minutes to go in the half.
On third down, Byford peeled out of the pocket and appeared to scramble, but pulled up just before crossing the line of scrimmage and connected with Brady Lewis on a 23-yard pickup.
The drive later stalled at the Tiger 11-yard line, prompting a Gabe Perez 28-yard field goal try, which he connected on to cut the lead to 8-3.
Later in the second quarter, Fayetteville was the beneficiary of a couple of Champion penalties that pressed the ball deep into Cascade territory.
Despite allowing the Tigers to push inside the 20-yard line, Cascade’s defense appeared to get off the field, but Willoughby extended a fourth-down play from the Cascade 19-yard line and eventually connected with Kentius Henderson on the 19-yard strike to the corner of the end zone.
The loss was the first region loss of the year for the Champions, but with one game left to play, Cascade still still has plenty to play for with postseason implications pending on the outcome of Friday’s regular season finale.
“We’re playing really good football right now. We have to let that carry over to next week. We have to worry about Marion County and worry about the last game of the regular season,” Tyre said.
The Champs will wrap up the regular season on Friday night at Marion County.
Cascade 0 3 6 0 — 9
Fayetteville 8 7 0 0 — 15
F — Sam Willoughby 3 run, (Alex Young 2pt. pass from Fernando Leslie), 2:08.
C — Gabe Perez 28-yard field goal, 7:00.
F — Kentius Henderson 19 pass from Willoughby, (Colton Robinson kick), 5:16.
C — Sawyer Lovvorn 1 run, (kick blocked), 4:33.