“They are a very talented team that can score in a hurry, plus they feature the best running back we’ve seen since (current Ole Miss Rebel) I’Tavius Mathers (at Blackman in 2011),” assessed Bradley head coach Damon Floyd. “He’s (Desmond Pittman) as big as (Polk County’s) Zach Miller. He’s as powerful as the Signal Mountain’s guy (James McClellan) and has the speed and vision of Hixson’s two guys (Isaiah Robinson and Kedrick Bradley).”
After gaining almost 900 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns in the fourth-ranked (5A) Owls’ first five games, Pittman left last week’s 10-3 victory over Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett in the second quarter with a knee injury.
“We watched it on film and it (the injury) didn’t look too serious, so we expect him to be out there Friday night,” remarked coach Floyd. “They not only have him, but a 6-foot-4 quarterback (Brody Binder) with a cannon for an arm and speed on the edges with one of their receivers being recruited by Austin Peay and UT-Martin.”
Binder has completed 77-of-148 passes for 1,021 yards and a 12-3 TD-to-interception ratio so far this season. Anthony Turner has been his frequent target with 17 receptions for 429 yards and seven scores going into last week’s victory, while Mike Williams hauled in nine catches for 137 yards, including the game’s only TD, against Dobyns-Bennett.
“They are very balanced and efficient offensively,” stated coach Floyd. “You have to stack the box to try to stop the run against them, but they have several guys on the outside that can take it to the house.”
While first-year coach Mac Bryan, who came from the UT-Martin coaching staff to take over the Owls, has kept the same offense Ooltewah has used the last few years, he has taken the defense back to a four-man front.
“They are big up front and they have a sophomore linebacker who will be a big-time recruit. They are a very talented team, maybe the best in 5A this year, and have what it takes to make a strong run in the playoffs,” assessed Floyd.
Ooltewah’s lone loss of the season came in 58-47 shootout with fifth-ranked (6A) Siegel in the second game, while its five wins have come by outscoring opponents 169-61. The Owls also handed East Hamilton, ranked third in this week’s Class 5A poll, its only loss of the year in a 28-26 battle two weeks ago.
Although Bradley has won 17 of the 29 meetings between the two teams, Ooltewah has taken nine of the last dozen, including a 24-23 tooth-and-nail battle at Bear Stadium the last time they met.
While the Owls come in with a pair of district wins over East Hamilton and Soddy-Daisy, the Bears have won four straight games since dropping their opener at seventh-ranked (3A) Polk County.
Bradley mauled Walker Valley 38-14 in its lone 5-AAA matchup so far, plus have outscored their opponents 127-89 in its victories, including last week’s 36-27 upset of fifth-ranked (4A) Signal Mountain.
While the Bears have been outgained 1,635-1,620 by their opponents, the Black-and-Gold has a 10-3 turnover ratio, coming up with the big defensive plays when they need them.
“We have a bend, but don’t break defense,” declared Coach Floyd. “Yes we’ve given up some big numbers (to opposing runners), our guys have played hard every play and come through when we needed it the most.”
The Bear D has been helped by the return of potential all-state linebacker Eduardo Trevino. The 240-pound senior “Mike” linebacker has been in on 38 total tackles, including 15 solos, in just two games since coming back from knee and back surgery earlier this year.
Classmate and fellow linebacker Jordan Timmons leads the area in tackles with 67 total his (19 solos), including seven tackles for loss and a trio of takeaways.
Baylor Terrell, Dalton Cooley, Daniel Clark and DJ Moyse have helped out with 41, 40 and 39 (Clark and Moyse) tackles respectively. Cooley leads the team with 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including five QB sacks and caused a pair of fumbles. Terrell, Clark and Moyse have combined for 9 1/2 tackles for loss.
Senior transfer quarterback Brett Standifer has settled in with the Bear offense, leading the team’s rushing attack with 269 yards on 73 carries, including five for scores, plus has connected on 65-of-108 passes for 1,004 yards and a dozen TDs, while throwing just three interceptions.
Senior receivers Dee Crisp and Cal Pickel have been Standifer’s main targets with 429 and 324 yards respectively. Crisp is averaging 23.8 yards per catch with a half dozen of his 18 receptions finding paydirt. Pickel has four scores in his 22 catches, while averaging just under 15 yards per reception.
“We have a great opportunity with three (Ooltewah, Cleveland, East Hamilton) of our last five games against teams that are also in the hunt for the district title with us, but they are trying to do the same thing we are,” expressed Coach Floyd. “We’ve been honest with our kids about the challenge we face, but if we can stay mentally sharp and keep grinding it out, we can control our own destiny.”
“We have been at home for a couple of weeks and now we have to got into hostile environments (at Ooltewah and at Cleveland Oct. 11), but our fans will be there with us. Our student section has been tremendous this season and with the games being so close, we expect that they will travel with us.”
While the Bears (4-1, 1-0) and Owls (5-1, 2-0) tangle in Ooltewah, just a few miles away sixth-ranked Cleveland (4-2, 2-0) will be battling East Hamilton (4-1, 1-1) Friday evening.