ATHENS, Tenn. — McMinn County's Cherokees weren't quite as dominant in the three phases of football during the rest of the TSSAA Class 6A first-round playoff game as they were in the first quarter. But then again, they didn't have to be.
The Cherokees delighted their home crowd by getting off to a good start and then cruising to a 42-22 victory over Bradley Central.
McMinn County (10-1) will host Riverdale next Friday at 7 p.m.
Friday's game was between District 5-AAA opponents and was a rematch from a week earlier when the Cherokees won 34-29 on the same field. McMinn coach Bo Cagle said he had not been in a situation like that before but figured the Bears' coaching staff was probably going through the same "what ifs?" as his.
Cagle's biggest concern about his players was whether they would be ready from the start, something that didn't happen in the regular-season game.
"Last week it was big for Bradley Central to start fast," Cagle said. "We wanted to build on what we did the last two quarters."
The Cherokees drove 64 yards with the opening possession on five running plays. The last was a 22-yard run by Kelvin Wells Jr., who ended up carrying 22 times for 182 yards and four touchdowns.
After forcing a Bradley punt, they covered 60 yards in four plays with quarterback Corbin Powers connecting with Clay Bennett for a 27-yard touchdown.
Although the Cherokees missed their first extra point, they won the special-teams battle in the first quarter by getting a conversion run from Caleb Selvege after the second TD and Ryan Fowler blocked a punt for a safety with 54 seconds left to make it 16-0 at the end of the first quarter. McMinn County outgained the Bears 178 to minus-5 in the first quarter and had a 9-0 edge in first downs.
"They came out ready to play," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said. "The bottom line is I didn't have my team ready. This one's on me."
Dre Sanders added 11 carries for 87 yards for McMinn before sitting out the fourth quarter to rest a knee that's been bothering him. Powers added 72 yards on 13 carries and did not throw an incomplete pass until about five minutes remained, although he had an interception in the third quarter. He ended up 8-of-11 for 98 yards and threw a TD pass to Matt Derrickson.
The Cherokees were penalized 11 times for 117 yards during the three-hour-plus flagfest, six for 68 in the fourth quarter. The Bears were penalized 10 times for 91 yards.
"They were throwing every time in the fourth quarter," Cagle said. "We probably got a little lazy and had some pass-interference calls. We'll work on that."
Four-year starting quarterback Bryce Copeland had a 1-yard scoring run and two TD passes. He ended up 17-of-35 for 160 yards.
"I've known him since he was born," an emotional Floyd said. "These seniors have a lot to be proud of. They're the ones that turned things around at Bradley. You get to know them and you love them like your own. Bryce is one of the best quarterbacks to come through Bradley."
His leading receiver was Cal Pickel with five catches for 85 yards.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.