Sun Valley rode its red-hot offense to pile up over 400 yards and rout Cuthbertson 49-14 to advance to the third round of the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs.
by Lee Noles
It appears the Sun Valley High football program is getting healthy at just the right time, and that may mean trouble for everybody else in the NCHSAA’s 3-AA playoffs.
The Spartans rolled up over 400 yards of total offense, and the defense shutout Cuthbertson in the second half to run away with a 49-14 home win in the second round on Nov. 17th.
After battling injuries much of the year, including losing four-star Division I quarterback recruit Sam Howell for a game, Sun Valley (10-3) has won five of its last six. The Spartans travel to Mount Tabor on Nov. 25 to play in the third round for the first time since 2012.
“In my 34 years of coaching I don’t remember being this healthy this late in the year,” Sun Valley coach Tad Baucom said. “Also, being healthy breeds confidence, and our team is starting to get a lot of confidence right now.”
The Spartans are also getting contributions from a variety of people. Five players scored touchdowns against the Cavaliers with Kendall Anderson and Don McClendon each finding the endzone twice for Sun Valley.
After both teams scored in the opening quarter, Anderson got his first touchdown of the game when Howell looked off the defense and found him down the middle for a 13-yard catch. McClendon, who had been nursing a pulled hamstring, followed moments later when the senior running back burst up the middle for a 21-yard score to give the Spartans a two-touchdown advantage in the second quarter.
Howell, Anthony Marple and Tacory Robinson also had touchdowns for the Spartans, who reach 10 wins for the first time since 2010.
“We are just spreading the ball around and trusting each other,” said Anderson, who went over 1,000 yards receiving for the season in the win over the Cavaliers. “It’s all about confidence. We don’t back down from anybody.”
McClendon’s touchdown was set up after Jack Wilton recovered a fumble when a Sun Valley punt bounced off a Cavalier special teams player. It was one of three turnovers by Cuthbertson, which resulted in Sun Valley points. Howell scored the game’s first touchdown on a run off the right side after Christian Joe stepped in front of a Cavalier pass and returned the interception to Cuthbertson’s 14-yard line.
“Every time you give Sun Valley extra possessions, it’s going to be tough,” Cuthbertson coach David Johnson said. “It’s a whole momentum thing right there for us.”
The Spartans added to their lead in the third quarter after Alec Colson recovered a Cavalier fumble on a tackle and strip by Roy Artolozaga and Christian Lockhart. The Sun Valley offense capitalized when Howell completed a seven-play drive by finding Anderson on a cross for a 23-yard touchdown.
The defense for Sun Valley has struggled in the state playoffs over the last several years, allowing more than 40 points per game in three straight first-round losses. Things appear to be different this postseason with the Spartans surrendering just 20 points per game in their two playoff wins.
In addition to the forced turnovers, the Sun Valley defense sacked Cuthbertson three times and held the Cavs to 68 yards of offense and just four first downs in the second half
“We want to leave a legacy here,” said Artolozaga, who finished with a team-high eight tackles against Cuthbertson. “We want to be remembered here. … Leave something for the Valley to remember us by.”
Cuthbertson ends its season at 5-8, but Johnson is proud of his team’s resiliency late in the year. Despite entering the playoffs on a four-game losing streak, the Cavs went on the road and came from behind to upset Alexander Central in the opening round.
Against the Spartans, Myles Wallace ran for a 29-yard touchdown, while quarterback Davis Walker connected with Jayden Jennings down the left side for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
“It’s been an up and down year, and this team had every opportunity to give up and give in,” Johnson said. “And to make it to the second round of the playoffs is great.”