Rhea tough test for Raiders

By PATRICK MacCOON Sports Writer
Posted 8/17/17

After an early taste of success at Rhea County High School last weekend for the Southeast Tennessee Kickoff Classic, Cleveland returns to the same turf with high hopes for a repeat.

However, …

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Rhea tough test for Raiders

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After an early taste of success at Rhea County High School last weekend for the Southeast Tennessee Kickoff Classic, Cleveland returns to the same turf with high hopes for a repeat.

However, nothing will come easy this time around as they hit the road to Evensville to face a perennial power in the form of the gash-and-smash Golden Eagles.

After a strong preseason, it all comes down to the glow of the true Friday night lights for the potential breakout Blue Raiders.

2016 records:

Cleveland 5-5 (2-4); Rhea County (9-3, 6-0)

Quick hitter

Cleveland is expected to well surpass last season’s mark even as they make the climb to Class 6A football.

Rhea County is favored to compete at the top of 5A with Knoxville Catholic.

3rd down stops

Rhea County head coach Mark Pemberton may have lost his top two running backs in Mason Stephenson and Cody Bice to graduation, but the philosophy stays the same.

A methodical offense for the boys in green and yellow will once again look to carry out drives lasting anywhere from six to 10 minutes, as they will look to run often behind an always stellar offensive line.

For the Raiders to come away with a victory in one of the toughest road venues, they will have to find any chance they can to get off the field on third down.

They return plenty of experience on defense and leaders will have to step up and shed blocks to bring down the ball carrier on third-and-short situations.

If they can’t, the Golden Eagles have the ability and the script to wear down nearly any opponent with long drives.

Chase Oliver and Logan Stutzman will look to break into the backfield from the outside linebacker positions, while the defensive line will have to hold their gaps as well.

Rhea County also has a strong option at tight end, which Cleveland will have to watch out for on play-action passes.

Getting the ball

in space

Game plans are often complex, but the key for head coach Scott Cummings’ offense will simply be to get the ball in the open field.

While senior running back Keegan Jones can run the ball up the middle and junior quarterback has shown he can also take a read up the middle for a big gain, the Blue Raiders’ lateral speed is going to be a major weapon.

Junior slot receiver/running back Micaleous Elder is set to have his role upped even more this season in the passing game, and with an accurate quarterback in junior Kellye Cawood the combination could be lethal.

The Blue Raiders will find any way they can to get Elder close to 8-10 targets in the passing game and a handful of rushes too.

If he gets the ball in space, it will be key for CHS to not have any costly penalties, as Elder at any given moment can break for a long score with his burners mixed with shiftiness and a strong spin move.

Balanced offense

Cleveland will not give away too much before the snap as the preseason standout play from Cawood gives reason to believe it could be lethal through the air and on the ground.

If the Blue Raiders want to win this game, they will most likely need to evenly distribute the ball and finish with 175 to 200 yards or more in both fazes of its offense.

Cawood in just one quarter last week was able to put forth 181 total yards, which included 143 passing yards on 6-of-8 attempts.

If indeed the signal caller is on his mark and is decisive on when to pitch the ball (and throw it away, when need be), CHS stands a strong chance of shocking plenty of opponents.

Rhea County is no slouch after winning an average of 10-plus games the past three seasons, but with several of its stud running backs gone, plenty of answers are left on the table.

Expect an exciting season opener, to say the least.

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