Despite a strong Cherokee start, the Raiders persevered and played their style of soccer in the second half to cruise to a 3-nil victory and lock in the second seed.
“They outplayed us in the first half. We were a little off our game coming out of the gates, and they put a lot of pressure on us,” explained Raider head coach John Brose.
“We did well defensively in the second half, became more disciplined and got back to our style of soccer. We put the ball on the floor, found our forwards’ feet and [began] playing people in from there.”
The Brose ‘10 tick attack’ was on display as Cleveland fought McMinn hard in the first 10 minutes to try and gain the upper hand in intensity and momentum.
Seth Goza capitalized on the strategy when a Raider drive led to a foul in the box and a penalty kick. Goza beat the Cherokee goalkeeper to put Cleveland up a goal within the first five minutes of play.
However, McMinn wasn’t deterred by the goal and possessed the ball very well in the first half, many times putting the Raider defense to the test.
In the 18th minute of play the Cherokees nearly tied the score, but Raider keeper CJ Garrett made a fantastic diving save to push the ball wide and preserve the lead.
During the 24th minute another McMinn drive resulted in a shot from the top of the box that was pushed just high to end the threat.
Garrett earned his keep; in the 38th minute he dived on a McMinn laser to keep the home club off the board for the first half of play.
Going into the half Cleveland had weathered the storm and still clung desperately to a 1-nil lead against a team that looked hungry for the win.
Actually, two storms including the intermittent bouts of rain that plagued the match throughout, drenched players and pitch alike.
The cold, wet weather didn’t seem to have much impact on the game though, as both team continued to fight hard for possession and earn the win.
As is their theme, the first 10 minutes of the second half saw some Raider fireworks.
Goza launched a rope in the 43rd minute that blasted off the McMinn crossbar after coming just inches from increasing the lead.
Just as it looked like Cleveland might come away empty in their second half 10-minute attack Taylor Jewett floated a give-and-go from Goza over the Cherokee goalkeeper to put the Raiders up by a pair.
Another rocket was fired by Goza in the 52nd minute that was only prevented from reaching the home net by a diving McMinn keeper.
“I think the Seth Goza to Taylor Jewett one-two in there with Jewett coming away with the score might be our best goal of the year. The build up from the back all the way to the goal was just some really great stuff,” expressed Brose.
Emotions spilled over three minutes later when the official walked over to the crowd and showed a card to a belligerent fan who was then asked to leave the proceedings.
In spite of the drama and the Cleveland score, McMinn still matched the intensity of play at every turn.
During the 69th minute it was Cleveland’s other keeper, Pierson Bunch, who was able to shine when he made a diving save to end a Cherokee threat.
The final nail in McMinn’s coffin came with nine minutes left to play when Eric Ingraham made a cross to Goza who punched one through for the final score of the game, putting Cleveland up 3-nil.
After gaining the three-goal lead, Brose subbed out the entire team for the remaining seven minutes of play to give his starters some rest and allow some bench players to get some time on the pitch.
McMinn launched into one final attack as the half closed, but Bunch made a diving save to notch yet another Raider shutout.
“This should mean we are the 2 seed moving forward. Ooltewah will be the 1. We will face the 7 seed in the district quarterfinal, and McMinn should be the 3 seed. So, if we do have to face them in a semifinal they will have to come to us, and that is pretty big,” Brose explained.
Up next for Cleveland is the Hendersonville Classic, which runs from Friday until Sunday. The Raiders will face some very stout competition in order to hone themselves for the upcoming district tournament which begins May 5.