Instead the defenses dominated the “Crosstown Classic,” with three big scoring plays accounting for more than a third of the night’s offense as Bradley Central posted its second straight shutout in an 18-0 victory over arch rival Cleveland High.
“We knew they (Cleveland) had a good defense, but our defense has really come on as they’ve gotten more experience ” proclaimed coach Damon Floyd, whose Bears posted back-to-back shutouts (they blanked Walker Valley 42-0 the previous week) for the first time since coach Louie Alford’s first two games at the Bradley helm in 1980.
The two offenses that had combined for more than 5,850 yards and 60 touchdowns in the first seven games, were held to only just a little over 200 yards apiece, and only drove into the Red Zone once each, as the ESPNU cameras rolled.
The victory sets up the District 5-AAA championship game Friday night at Bear Stadium as McMinn County and eighth-ranked Bradley will square off with identical 7-2 overall records and perfect 4-0 league marks.
“Facing three straight rivals is tough but this is what we’ve worked for since the end of last season,” declared Floyd as the Bears prepare to renew the second-longest rivalry in the state. “The games have gotten bigger each week. McMinn is very athletic and has a good defense. We need to focus on our job and what we need to do and we’ll be all right.”
With only losses to McCallie and 10th-ranked Farragut marring their record, the Cherokees have won five straight games, including a 44-20 victory over Soddy-Daisy Friday night.
Despite slipping to 4-5 on the season, with a 2-3 district mark, Cleveland can secure a spot in the post season for the 33rd time in school history with a victory Friday at Rhea County (1-8, 1-4).
Coached by former Raider Doug Greene, the Eagles captured their first victory of the season with a 19-16 win at Walker Valley Friday night.
With Bradley winning the toss and electing to receive Friday night, Slaughter tried to catch the visitors off guard with an onside kick, but sophomore Cal Pickel wasn’t fooled and fell on the ball on his own 48.
Despite giving up the good field position, Cleveland’s defense made a statement on the first play from scrimmage as all-state lineman Henry McClendon broke through the line and through the Bear ball carrier for a 2-yard loss.
Bradley went to its all-stater, giving the ball to James Stovall on a reverse in the next play for an 8-yard gain and then junior quarterback Bryce Copeland finding him with a 10-yard pass for the game’s initial first down.
Like it had done the previous three weeks, the Bears scored quickly as senior speedster Justin Houston scampered 36 yards on the following play to find the end zone with just 83 seconds gone off the game clock.
The teams traded a trio of punts the rest of the opening quarter before Bradley put its second score on the board on the second play of the second period.
Taking over on it own 27, the Bears once again got set back on its first play as Raider junior Daivd Morgan made a 4-yard tackle-for-loss.
On the next play Copeland kept the ball on QB sweep, bobbing-and-weaving his way 77 yards to paydirt.
The defenses once again took over at that point with each team crossing midfield just once in the final five possessions of the half.
After Copeland’s longest scoring run of the season, Cleveland’s C.J. Bryant returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Bear 45, but four plays later the Raiders turned the ball over on downs.
Bradley made its lone drive into the Red Zone with less than five minutes to go in the half. Taking over on their own 49, the Bears used eight plays to reach the Raider 14, but had to settle for a 31-yard field goal try that hit the crossbar and bounced short.
After holding the hosts to just 84 yards of offense in the opening half, Bradley took a 12-0 lead into the locker rooms for the intermission.
The Bears defense started the second half like it played the first with a three-and-out that lost a yard, forcing another punt that gave the Black-and-Gold possession at midfield.
Like they had done the first two quarters, Bradley wasted no time finding the end zone in the third as Copeland and Houston hooked up on a 49-yard catch-and-run for the game’s final touchdown on the second play of the possession.
After scoring with 9:49 left in the third quarter, the Bear offense never made it across midfield the rest of the contest.
Cleveland was able to mount a couple of time-consuming drives in the second half — one went 12 plays but was stopped at the Bear 37, while the other was directed by sophomore quarterback Austin Herink in the fourth quarter using 15 plays to march the Raiders into the Red Zone for the only time in the contest, but turning the ball over on downs at the 16.
The much anticipated showdown between a pair of high-powered quarterbacks was thwarted by the defensive efforts on the night.
Cleveland senior Chad Voytik, who has committed to play at the University of Pittsburgh next year, was limited to 13 rushing yards on 11 carries, plus was sacked twice by Chris Thompson and Nate Mills in three quarters of play. The ESPN Elite 11 qualifier completed 11-of-21 passes but for only 63 yards and was picked off once by Stovall.
Herink played the final frame, completing 6-of-11 passes for 62 yards, plus he was sacked twice by Mills and Robert Bartolameolli.
Copeland, who has more than 1,500 passing yards this season, connected on just 5-of-11 passes for 85 yards. He was sacked once as senior Sam Matthews dropped him for a 19-yard loss. Although he had the 77-yard TD run, Copeland finished with a net gain of just 59 yards on eight carries.
Houston finished with 117 all-purpose yards, with 68 on 11 carries and the 49-yard receptions, pushing his area-leading touchdown total to 17.
Bradley managed just 233 yards of offense on the night, while Cleveland posted only 201 with senior Shun Qualls catching four passes in the final quarter for 61 yards to top the home team effort.
Bryant was the leading ground gainer for the home team with 51 yards on 13 carries, while the Blue Raiders had a net ground gain of just 66 yards.
The defenses combined for 16 tackles for loss in the battle.
“They’ve (Cleveland) got a tough front 7,” commented Floyd. “We had trouble running the ball against them because we couldn’t move them like we needed to.”
“I felt good about our offense in general. We scored three touchdowns and had another one ruled out of bounds (on a 14-yard catch by Stovall in the front corner of the end zone, which forced the field goal attempt just before the half),” he added.
“We felt like we left some points on the field,” the Bear mentor expressed. “We got conservative with our play calling in the second half because our defense was doing such a great job and we didn’t want to risk turning the ball over.”
While Cleveland still dominated the overall rivalry which dates back to CHS’ opening in 1965 by a 25-12 margin, the Bears have taking two of the last three, both of which came at Raider Field.
“I’m proud for our seniors,” Floyd praised. “They have beaten Walker Valley every year and have taken 2-of-3 from Cleveland.”