Bears advance for 2nd year in a row, play at No. 2 Lee County next week

For the second year in a row, the Cambridge Bears are moving onto the second round, beating the South Paulding Spartans 50-29 at home Saturday in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.

Next week, the No. 9-ranked Bears (9-1), a No. 2 seed from Region 7, will travel 200 miles to play No. 2 Lee County (10-1), the No. 1 seed from Region 1.

Before last season, the Bears program, founded in 2012, had never won a playoff game. Now they’ll try to advance past the second round for the first time.

“Lee County is a tough team,” said Bears junior running back Jake Marlow, who led the team with 140 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. “I think we’re ready for it, but it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”

Marlow jumpstarted the Bears by returning the game’s opening kickoff to South Paulding 40. He rushed 13 yards on the first play from scrimmage, then 27 yards on the next play to put the Bears ahead for good at 6-0, 30 seconds into the game.

Marlow’s second score came on a 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter, and put Cambridge ahead 13-0. The Bears once again got favorable field position to start the drive, this time because the Spartans went for it on fourth-and-23 from the Cambridge 41. The Spartans turned the ball over on downs after a short screen pass.

That ended a 19-play Spartans drive that chewed nearly nine minutes of clock.

It would be that kind of night for the Spartans (8-3), the No. 3 seed from Region 5. The week before in the Spartans’ 21-14 win over Alexander, they lost starting quarterback Kasen Weisman for the season to injury. They could never find a rhythm in the passing game, changing quarterbacks at halftime, and workhouse running back Jamarion Wilcox did most of his damage late in the second half, when the game was already decided.

Wilcox, a junior, led all rushers with 227 yards and three touchdowns — including a 79-yarder — on 23 carries.

The Bears led 23-0 at halftime, scoring on a Cade Ellington 36-yard touchdown reception from Zach Harris with 10 seconds left in the half. The drive was set up by a Connor Harris interception with 43 seconds left.

The Spartans took the second half’s opening drive 80 yards on six plays, taking just two minutes off the clock, with Wilcox rushing 21 yards for his first touchdown. That made it 23-7 with 9:40 left in the third.

The Bears responded their next drive, which ended with a 17-yard touchdown run by Zach Harris with 5:40 left in the third. The drive was set up by another Harlow kickoff return, this one out to the Cambridge 40. The Bears went 2-for-2 on third-down conversions on the drive, including a 16-yard pass from Zach Harris to Cade Elllington on third-and-11 from their own 39.

Ellington led all receivers with 130 yards on five catches.

The fourth quarter saw a total of 44 points between the two teams, but the Spartans failed to make a meaningful run.

Bears coach Craig Bennett lauded his team’s defense, but held sympathy toward the Spartans and Weisman.

“That quarterback is a great player,” Bennett said. “I can’t say enough about him. I’m so sad for that kid, and wish him the best. Our defense did play really well, though. ...I’m proud of all the group, they played hard and it was a good win.”

South Paulding 0 0 7 22 — 29

Cambridge 6 17 7 20 — 50

C — Jack Marlow 27 run (kick failed)

C — Marlow 1 run (McCall Bennett kick)

C — Connor Noone 29 FG

C — Cade Ellington 36 pass from Zach Harris (McCall kick)

S — Jamarion Wilcox 21 run (Rabon Latham kick)

C — Harris 17 run (McCall kick)

C — Marlow 4 run (McCall kick)

C — Ben Ridenour 36 run (run failed)

S — Brendan Gates 35 pass from Ryan Seymour (Wilcox run)

C — Preston Clemmer 27 run (McCall kick)

S — Wilcox 79 run (Wilcox run)

S — Wilcox 7 run (pass failed)

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