ATHENS — After seeing former Tennessee Vol great Peyton Manning be involved in seven touchdowns in Thursday night’s NFL opener, Cleveland High senior QB Austin Herink matched the Denver Bronco signal caller’s effort Friday evening to open the District 5-AAA slate.
While Manning tied an NFL record with seven TD passes, Herink connected with standout receiver DJ Jones for three scoring tosses, but ran in the other four himself in a 49-7 victory over two-time defending district champion McMinn County in Athens.
“Austin (Herink) has worked really hard to become more mobile. He showed tonight (Friday) he is able to make some people miss and do more than just score on sneaks,” praised Blue Raider head coach Ron Crawford. “Today people are looking for quarterbacks that can be a dual threat (run and pass) and it is very gratifying to see him develop that part of his game. I’m very proud of the way he played tonight.”
While two of his scores were on 1-yard punch ins, the other pair came on scrambles Herink was able to turn into points.
The second-most lopsided victory between the old rivals (the Raiders won 52-0 in 1981), gives Cleveland a 32-11 lead in the series that date’s back to the school’s 1965 opening.
“I’m really happy for the seniors. They had lost to them (McMinn) the last two years, so this was a good way to finish up against them,” commented coach Crawford. “It was a very good overall win — we had good efforts from our offense, defense and special teams.”
Now 2-1 on the season, plus the key district victory, Cleveland will return to Benny Monroe Stadium Friday to take on a new opponent as Wilson Central makes the trip down from Middle Tennessee.
The Wildcats from Lebanon are also 2-1 on the season after a 26-7 District 9-AAA victory Friday evening over Portland. Wilson Central’s loss came to unbeaten Hendersonville in 28-14 season opener.
In what Crawford called “an exceptional start, playing as good as we can play,” the Raiders scored on its first four possessions, all coming in the opening quarter as they took advantage of the first two of a half dozen Cherokee turnovers Friday evening.
After Jones returned the opening kickoff from his 17 to just across midfield, Herink directed a seven-play, 49-yard drive in just over 2 1/2 minutes, punching the ball in from the 1 on a QB sneak for the first score of the night.
With senior Kimsey Bell getting the first of a dozen tackles for loss by the boys in blue, the Cleveland defense forced a three-and-out.
The Raider offense was given a “short field” after just a 13-yard punt, but needed nine plays to cover the 36 yards. After being forced to scramble out of the pocket, Herink found Jones in the back of the end zone for a seven-yard score and sophomore Oscar Galvan added his second of five successful extra point kicks for a 14-0 lead with 5:19 still on the first frame clock.
In another quick turnaround, the Raider defense got the ball back on the third play after the ensuing kickoff. Junior Koran Kennedy stripped the ball free while sacking the Cherokee QB and teammate Dalten McDonald pounced on the pigskin just 11 yards shy of the goal line.
After a 10-yard pass to senior Parker Smith, Herink once again broke the plain of the goal on a keeper and Galvan split the uprights for 21-0 advantage with 3:25 on the clock, but that would not be the final score of the opening quarter.
McMinn (1-2, 0-1) was able to finally get a pair of first downs on their third offensive possession, but Raider junior TJ Parker slipped in front of a Tribe receiver and snatched the ball away and headed off on an apparent 65-yard “Pick 6,” but there was laundry on the field.
After going the first 10 minutes of the contest without being whistled for an infraction, the second of a half dozen Raider penalties in a five-minute span brought the ball back to the Tribe 32.
Four plays later, Cleveland overcame another penalty with a 24-yard scoring pass play from Herink to Jones.
Trailing 28-0 as the second frame opened, McMinn put together its lone scoring drive of the evening, covering 66 yards (20 of which came a pair of Raider penalties), with DJ Kimpson scooting in from 16 yards out for the touchdown with 10:33 to go in the half.
After Jones once again returned the ensuing kickoff to near midfield, Herink scampered in from 31 yards out, but the play was called back by another yellow flag and four plays later the big lefty made his lone mistake of the evening as his pass into the end zone was picked off by Cherokee standout Dre Sanders.
Determined not to be out shined by the offense, the Cleveland “D” once again answered with its third of six turnovers in the contest, this one an interception by Jonathan Terrero, which the senior linebacker returned 16 yards to the McMinn 9 yard line.
Two plays later Herink had to scramble out of the pocket and won the race to the pylon for a seven-yard score to give the game its 34-7 halftime tally.
After receiving the second half kickoff, McMinn tried to make a quick splash as senior Dre Hall broke free on a 48-yard dash on the second play, but Jones was able to run him down for a TD-saving tackle at the Raider 18. On the next play, the Cleveland defense knocked the ball loose once again and senior Darius Pillow came out of the pile with the pigskin.
Although the Cleveland “O” wasn’t able to capitalize on that turnover, Pillow came up with another big play on the following Tribe possession with a sack on a third-and-2 play in Raider territory.
The resulting punt pinned Cleveland on its own 13, but Herink worked his magic, hitting Tyler Davis for 15 yards and three plays later got the ball to Parker on a screen pass which went for 35.
After runs of six and seven yards by Raekwon Bunion, Herink moved the ball into the Red Zone with a 12-yard dash. He then hooked up with Jones for the Dynamic Duo’s third touchdown, this one covering nine yards. The pair have connected on seven TD pass in the first three games of the season.
Cleveland’s final offensive points of the evening came after the defense once again set the stage. Three plays into the next McMinn series, Davis made a spectacular leaping one-hand interception at the Raider 45.
Five plays later, Herink took off around the left end and avoided a couple of would-be tacklers for a 16-yard scoring scamper to set the running-clock rule in order for the game’s final 10:24.
After McMinn fumbled the ensuing kickoff return and Ben Wyrick came away with it at the Cherokee 29, the second-team Raider offense came on and appeared to be driving for a score when the hosts were given the ball back after a strange play.
The Raider ball carrier was tackled at the 4 yard line, but while the players were getting up all of a sudden a Cherokee defender scooped up the ball and took off toward the other end zone. The referees motioned for him to come back, but after some discussion, awarded the hosts possession of the ball at the 4.
Cleveland’s second-team defense then made the most of its opportunity, trapping the Cherokee ball carrier and tackling him in the end zone twice, but both times his forward progress was marked just outside the goal line.
On the third play, the McMinn QB took the snap and rolled out to his left but before he could get a pass off, Raider Zach Brammer was dragging him to the ground at the back of the end zone for a safety.
The Raider defense held the Tribe to just 65 yards of offense in the opening half and 233 for the night, with 12 of their 38 plays getting stopped behind the line of scrimmage. McMinn had just a dozen first downs on the night
With 1,240 yards and 120 points in its first three games, Cleveland’s high-potent offense topped the 400-yard mark again Friday with 36 rushes for 195 yards, plus 18 completions for another 210.
Herink connected on 17-of-27 passes for 203 yards and the three scores. He also carried the ball seven times for 46 yards, with the four touchdowns equaling his career total going into Friday’s contest.
Jones pulled in five passes for 56 yards and brought his overall touchdown total to nine so far this season. Davis had a trio of reception for 52 yards, while Smith had half dozen catches for 49 yards.
Bunion led the ground game with 77 yards on 15 carries, while TJ Parker finished with 84 yards on 10 rushes for 49, plus his 35-yard screen pass gain.
Hall topped McMinn with 61 yards on six carries, 48 of which came on one run. Sanders, McMinn’s highly-touted running back, only touched the ball three times — two carries for 27 yards and a four-yard loss on a pass play that Austin Massey nailed him on as soon as he caught the ball.
Cherokee signal caller Corbin Powers completed 13-of-22 passes for 100 yards, but had the three picks. Matt Derrickson six passes for 49 yards to lead the Tribe.