South-Doyle High School is reaching its potential.
A slew of early-season injuries set the Cherokees back and left them facing an uphill climb to make it to the Class 5A playoffs for a second consecutive year, but missing out on the postseason is no longer a concern.
The Cherokees notched their third-straight win Thursday, defeating Central 27-7 to clinch a playoff berth after starting the season with a 1-5 record.
“We knew that if we could just get healthy we’d have a chance,” South-Doyle head coach Clark Duncan said. “Right now, we’re playing like I thought we would at the beginning of the year. Our kids are resilient and they have worked hard to get back on the field.
“This was a great team win that gives us a chance to go compete in the playoffs and see if we can make a run at it.”
A leg injury to Elijah Young was one of the injuries that stunted South-Doyle’s progress early in the season, but the sophomore running back helped show how good the Cherokees (4-5, 4-2 Region 2-5A) can be now that they are healthy.
Young, who holds offers from Tennessee and Louisville, began his best performance of the season by getting South-Doyle on the board first, taking a screen pass from sophomore quarterback Mason Brang and sprinting 49 yards to pay dirt, and added a 15-yard touchdown run on the Cherokees’ next possession.
He finished the game 106 rushing yards on 16 carries, while also hauling in a pair of catches for 67 yards.
“It’s been a joyride,” Young said. “We knew we needed to win. As a team, we were thirsty for it because we wanted to take care of it tonight.”
“He showed the type of ability that Tennessee and Louisville have seen, but you also have to remember that we have some three-year starters that are back up front, too, that has made a difference,” Duncan added. “Hopefully we can continue to see that for the rest of the season.”
While Young shined on offense, the defense shut Central (4-5, 2-3) down, holding it to 140 yards (137 rushing, three passing). The Bobcats averaged just 3.1 yards per play while only recording nine first downs.
South-Doyle also managed to make a big play any time Central appeared to be gaining momentum, forcing three turnovers, all of which came in Cherokee territory and less than a two-touchdown deficit.
It was a performance the Cherokees have come to expect from the unit as of late, having allowed 13 points during their three-game winning streak over Seymour, Halls and Central.
“The defense played lights out,” Duncan said. “They have played their guts out and are just flying around and hitting people. Our defensive staff does a great job in getting kids ready. We had a great game plan, and more importantly the kids played hard.”
Three weeks ago, it did not seem that the Cherokees were destined for the postseason, but the stars aligned. Players got healthy, and piece by piece, a team that was expected to be a Class 5A contender came together.
Now South-Doyle finds itself where it expected to be all along.
“You just want to get in and then it is a survival thing,” Duncan said. “We don’t know where we will play, but it doesn’t matter. When it comes to the playoffs, we know somebody is going to go home and somebody is going to keep playing, so we’re going to play our hearts out and see how far we can take this thing.”