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Photo by Cade Deakin/ McMinnճ Jalen Hunt (17) runs the ball during the first half. The McMinn County Cherokees visited the Ooltewah Owls in TSSAA football action on September 13, 2019.

Knowing there's no place like home when it comes to the playoffs, McMinn County running back Jalen Hunt made sure his team would remain in familiar surroundings for this week's first round.

With second place in Region 2-6A, and the first-round home game that comes with it, on the line against rival Bradley Central last Friday, the undersized junior came up big.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound speedster set a single-game school record with 368 yards on 28 carries and scored five touchdowns to help his team rally from a 14-point halftime deficit for a 44-34 win. He also had five solo tackles, four assists and an interception, and that performance has earned Hunt the honor of Times Free Press player of the week.

"He's a really hard-working kid who's very strong and runs a lot bigger than he actually is," Cherokees coach Bo Cagle said. "He sees things on the field that not a lot of guys can. He can just dissect things whether he's on offense or defense.

"At halftime we felt like we were hurting ourselves more than anything. We still had time so we just needed a couple of stops, and we knew if Jalen got out in the open field he can make people miss and be gone for some big plays to get us right back in it. What a game he had. He sort of carried us."

some text Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ McMinn County's Jalen Hunt (17) runs around left end. The second day of the Best of Preps High School football jamboree was held at Finley Stadium on August 17, 2019.

McMinn County (9-1) will host Bearden (4-6) this Friday in a rematch of a week-five meeting won by the Cherokees 37-13.

Hunt, who was in for every defensive play and made a leaping interception near his team's goal line, scored on runs of 36, 19, 74, 61 and 47 yards. The last one, which put the game away, came with just over a minute remaining and his team facing fourth-and-inches while nursing a three-point lead. The previous school rushing record — 314 yards — was set by Kelvin Wells in 2012.

Hunt's rushing total helped the Cherokees possess the ball for 34 of the game's 48 minutes, limiting the number of opportunities for the high-scoring Bears.

"My offensive line blocked really well for me," Hunt told the Times Free Press after the game. "I told my team to keep pushing at halftime. I knew if we played better defensively and made tackles and big plays, we were going to win. It's the best game I have ever had, and I am really happy for my teammates, too."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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