Big enough to help Cherokee’s football team overcome 139 penalty yards. Big enough to hold off a spirited rally by cross-county rival Volunteer.
It’s even big enough to convince Cherokee coach Mike Sivert to transform his run-first offense into an all-out air show.
Ryans threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns on Friday night and the Chiefs lit up the Falcons 49-18 in non-conference play to claim bragging rights in Hawkins County for another year.
“When you’ve got the triggerman like that, you’ll do a lot of things,” Sivert said. “The game has changed a lot. Yeah, we like to run the ball and we’re going to have to at times.
“But you change with the times or you get left behind, and we’re doing what we do best.”
Ryans completed 19 of 28 passes, but none was bigger than the 24-yard scoring strike to Ethan Hagood with 1:14 to go in the first half.
Cherokee was clinging to a 14-12 lead before Ryans rolled to his right on fourth-and-10 and found Hagood in the back of the end zone to give the Chiefs some breathing room.
Once the second half got started, Cherokee’s success through the air opened up some running lanes for Justin House and the rest of the Chiefs’ backfield.
“We were just taking it slow and seeing what opened up,” Ryans explained. “We found what we needed to do.”
After rushing for just 7 yards on 11 carries in the first half, Cherokee finished with 136 yards on the ground.
House broke free for a 22-yard TD run in the third quarter and dived in from a yard out in the fourth. Cole Russell and Evan McCraken each added a rushing touchdown for Cherokee.
Meanwhile, Volunteer found itself in a 14-0 hole less than 10 minutes into the game. But the Falcons dug deep and got within two points late in the second quarter thanks to a pair of Kory Carter TD runs.
Houston Harris was impressive at times as he quarterbacked a Volunteer offense that worked to spread the field and move the ball through the air. He completed 15 of 30 passes for 105 yards with a touchdown and one interception.
As the game wore on, however, Cherokee was able to slow Volunteer’s offensive attack. The Falcons gained 131 of their 190 yards of offense in the first half.
Even though his team came up short, Volunteer coach Scott Rider was pleased with the way his players handled themselves in an emotional rivalry game.
“We dug ourselves a hole, but I’m very proud of the way we fought back,” he said. “We kept our composure throughout the game, and that shows that our kids are a class act.”
As time expired, the Chiefs flooded to the corner of the end zone to reclaim the trophy that goes to the winner of the annual contest.
To Ryans, the importance of Friday’s victory speaks for itself.
“It’s the Hawkins County Super Bowl,” he said. “That’s all you have to say.”