It was a Three Dog Night for Cleveland as they learned the hard way that “One” is indeed the loneliest and saddest number that you’ll ever know.
The seventh-ranked Blue Raiders entered the eye of the hurricane Friday night and found themselves coming up just a point shy (21-20) in a tight battle against District 5-AAA newcomer and East Hamilton, which is ranked third in the latest Associated Press Class 5A poll.
“It’s heartbreaking, just heartbreaking,” Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford stated. “We made a couple mistakes, missed a tackle, missed some blitzes and we didn’t get the ball kicked where we wanted. Those are all my mistakes and my fault. I have to do a better job.”
This week marked the second week in a row that the Raiders were in head-to-head battle with a state-ranked team. Cleveland fell to second-ranked Knoxville West the previous Friday.
Going into the matchup, it was expected that the storyline would revolve around the powerful offense possessed by both teams.
In six games Cleveland had an average of 38.1 points per game, while East Hamilton had an average of 34.2 points per game in five games.
Instead, the teams’ defense wound up stealing the show as the Raiders had their lowest scoring game of the season and the Hurricanes had their second lowest.
Cleveland put up the only points on the scoreboard in the first quarter, with a short four-yard trip by DJ Jones into the end zone at the 8:47 mark.
Little did the Raiders know that a failed extra point attempt would come back to haunt them at the end of the game.
East Hamilton’s offense came to life in the second, and while it was a brief burst it was enough to tip the game in the hometeam’s favor.
Matt Milita’s one-yard fall into the end zone along with a kick by Casey Malone put East Hamilton up 7-6 at 8:47 in the second quarter.
A second touchdown by Jones, this time a three-yard run at 4:57, along with a kick by Oscar Galvan gave Cleveland a short lived 13-7 lead.
Vanderbilt commit Tre Herndon’s speed was put to good use, as he got his first touchdown of the night off of an 80-yard kickoff return at 4:44 in the second quarter.
In an act of pure athletic contortion, Cleveland’s Tyler Davis managed to catch a wild 36-yard pass from QB Austin Herink in the end zone.
Davis’ touchdown with just one minute left in the half gave the Raiders their last lead of the game.
With a mere 11 seconds remaining on the clock, Hurricanes’ QB Hunter Moore fired off a 65-yard rocket to Herndon, who ensured that it reached paydirt.
Despite their best efforts, Cleveland was unable to make any plays to go in their favor for the remainder of game.
The Raiders defense successfully stalled any offensive efforts by East Hamilton, but also found their own offense stumped the Hurricanes’ defense.
As the final minute gave way to the last seconds of the game, Cleveland’s attempts to get within field goal range were foiled and they were forced to make some last second desperation plays.
The Raiders last four passes weren’t enough to stage the upset, and as the clock reached zero it was East Hamilton who was celebrating a one point victory.
“With nine seconds left if you get it the ball to the 25 there’s a chance for a field goal, but with three seconds left you’ve got to throw it to the end zone,” Crawford explained. “East Hamilton did a great job — they blitzed us instead of playing coverage and got Austin off his spot. In that kind of situation you’re just hoping to make a play and we weren’t able to tonight.”
Even though Cleveland was outlived by their district opponent, their efforts on the field were still something that Coach Crawford is proud of.
“My kids are playing very hard and I’m super proud of their efforts. I want them to reap some of the rewards for the efforts that they’ve been giving us,” Crawford stated.
TJ Parker, who had 72 yard in 14 attempts, and Raekwon Bunion, who had 58 yards in seven attempts, led the charge down the field for Cleveland.
In four receptions racked up 104 yards, while Eric Goodwin had seven receptions for 68 yards.
Herink completed 17 of his 25 attempted passes, which included one touchdown pass, for a total of 215 yards.
Cleveland is now 2-1 in the district and 4-3 overall
The Raiders will be back at Benny Monroe Stadium next Friday to host county rival Bradley Central.
The Bears, who suffered an equally tough two-point loss to Ooltewah Friday night, are now 1-1 in the district and 4-2 overall.
“We have to dust it off and change our course next week. No matter how bad it gets, keep fighting,” Crawford told his team.