With 12.1 seconds remaining and a two-point lead, Head Coach Eric Herrick called timeout on Jan. 3 and brought the Dawson County Tigers to the bench, drawing up what he hoped would be the final play in a hard- fought game.
Instead, it took two more timeouts and three more possessions before the Tigers claimed the 64-61 win over the Cherokee Bluff Bears to the uproarious delight of the home-town crowd in Ford Phillips Arena.
“A huge game,” said Herrick. “Our guys made just enough plays down the stretch to pull it off.”
Faced with a full-court press, the Tigers did not see their first lead in the game until halfway through the fourth period. A lead that came and went over the final few minutes until junior Tate Adkins broke free with a steal, fought through the challenging defender and gave Dawson County a three-point lead with 1:46 on the clock.
Even then the lead was tenuous, at best, as the Cherokee Bluff Bears fought hard for the victory that, until now, had seemed so tightly in their grasp. Despite the close score, the Bears seemed in control of the game from the opening buzzer.
The opening minutes saw the Bears present a very physical defense in the lane and force Dawson County to the outside.
The Tigers responded well with four three-point shots, one each from seniors Eli Burruss and Jasper Gibson, junior Mason Barnes and freshman Jaeden Gibson, but Cherokee Bluff was able to establish the inside game, winning the rebound battle and emerged from the period with a one-point lead.
In the second period the Bears continued to win under the net, extending their lead to nine as halftime approached, before a late rally allowed the Tigers to tie the game at 33 with one-minute remaining before the break. A heart-breaking buzzer beating long-ball put Cherokee Bluff up by three, 36-33, as the teams left the court.
Dawson County opened the second half with a fast, attacking offense but a series of mental errors, highlighted by a miscommunication on an inbound pass, allowed the Bears to hold onto their lead. Another late period rally, led by Adkins and Barnes, kept the Tigers within four as the game entered the final stanza.
Senior Campbell Reed finally found the gaps in the Cherokee Bluff defense and rallied the Tigers to a 6-1 burst over the first four minutes, giving the Tigers their first lead of the night at 58-57 with four minutes remaining.
Adkins breakaway lay-up with less than two minutes on the clock put Dawson up by three and set the stage for the dramatic come-back win.
The Bears answered with a quick bucket to come within one, and then it seemed as if time stood still. Suddenly neither team could find the net, and the tension built as the score remained 60-59 for what felt like an eternity as the clock ticked below 30 seconds.
At 12.9 seconds, Cherokee Bluff purposefully fouled Gibson (SR) to stop the clock, He went on to hit one of two, moving the lead to 61-59.
Cherokee Bluff went for it all on the following possession, rapidly moving down the court for a three-point shot but missed and found themselves fouling again in the hopes of regaining the ball.
This time Reed stepped to the line for a pair of free throws. He also sank one of the two, leaving the score at 62-59 with five seconds left in the game.
Another quick shot from the Bears sailed wide and out of bounds, and for the third time in 10 seconds, Cherokee Bluff fouled the ball carrier, in this case, Barnes.
Barnes calmly dropped both of his shots, and with less than a second on the clock, sealed the Tigers’ come from behind win by a final score of 64-61.
With the victory Dawson County remains the undefeated leader of region 7-AAA with a regional record of 5-0 and move to 15-2 overall on the season.
The Tigers faced another tough regional opponent on Jan. 7 when they hosted the East Hall Vikings. Results were unavailable as of press time.