OOLTEWAH — In a battle of evenly matched squads, a costly mistake here and there often proves to be the difference.
Such was the case Friday night in Ooltewah as longtime rivals Bradley Central and the host Owls took to the gridiron for a game that was in the balance until the final minute.
In the end some special teams miscues (a blocked field goal, a bad snap on a punt attempt and a pair of missed PATs) proved to be the difference as Ooltewah, ranked fourth in the latest Associated Press Class 5A state poll, remained the lone unbeaten team in District 5-AAA play with a narrow 28-26 victory over the Bears.
“It was two good teams going at it and we came up just short in the end,” proclaimed Bear head coach Damon Floyd. “We made some mistakes that cost us and you can’t do that against a team like them. Obviously I’m not happy with the final outcome, but I am proud of the way our guys fought against one of the best teams around.”
Now 6-1 on the season and a perfect 3-0 in district play, the Owls stand alone atop the 5-AAA standings after getting some help from third-ranked East Hamilton, which nipped No. 7-ranked Cleveland High 21-20 Friday in Collegedale.
The Hurricanes (5-1, 2-1) and Blue Raiders (4-3, 2-1) are tied for second place in the league, while the Bears (4-2, 1-1) are still very much in the hunt for the district crown.
Facing its third straight state-ranked squad, Bradley will travel across town to face arch-rival Cleveland Friday evening in a game that will district title chase ramifications.
Meanwhile, Ooltewah will entertain Walker Valley (3-3, 0-2) Friday with the Mustangs come off a bye week to try to refocus after dropping their last two games.
After forcing the Owls into a three-and-out in Friday night’s opening possessions, the Bears were able to get on the scoreboard first, marching 59 yards on seven plays to paydirt on their first offensive series.
Seniors Brett Standifer and Baylor Terrell hooked up for a 37-yard pass to put Bradley into the Red Zone. From there Standifer connected with classmate Dee Crisp on a seven-yard fade pass into the right corner of the end zone for the game’s first score. Senior Clayton Steels tacked on the extra point at the 7:44 mark of the opening quarter.
Ooltewah, whose only loss this season came to fifth-ranked (6A) Siegel in a 58-47 shootout, answered the visitors score with 62-yard march on the ensuing possession.
With leading rusher Desmond Pittman not playing due to an injury, the Owls went to the air on six of the seven plays of the scoring drive, with senior quarterback Brody Binder connecting with classmate Mike Williams for the final 13 yards. Lasio Toser evened the score with the PAT with 4:47 left on the first frame clock.
“We had expected Pittman to play, so when he didn’t it changed their (Ooltewah’s) offensive scheme and we had to adjust on the fly,” commented Coach Floyd.
The hosts took their first lead of the contest the next time they got the ball, driving 87 yards on nine plays, only three of which were passes, with Binder doing the honors with a 14-yard jaunt to paydirt less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Not to be outdone, the Bears responded with nine-play, 67-yard scoring series of their own. While the drive included a 40-yard hook up between Standifer and sophomore Tyler Carpenter, Standifer was the one who punched the ball in from a yard and a half out on a QB sneak.
Bradley was unable to tie the score with the extra point as a low snap prevented a clean hold and possibly allowed an Owl to get a piece of the ball as it barely had enough distance and went just wide right, leaving the score at 14-13 through the rest of the half. Ooltewah almost scored on the final play before the intermission when Adrian Hall picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards before Bear junior Daniel Clark made a TD saving tackle at the 5 yard line after time had expired.
Receiving the second half kickoff, Bradley was able to retake the lead with another nine-play drive, this one covering 65 yards. Standifer and Crisp opened and closed the march with eight-yard completions, but the two-point conversion swing pass was stopped short of the goal line to leave the score at 19-14 with just over four minutes gone in the second half.
The Bear advantage was short-lived as Ooltewah scored just 95 seconds later, capping a five-play, 59-yard drive with a strange play. On a second-and-goal from the 5, the orignal Owl ball carrier was hit about the 3 yard line and coughed the ball up, but teammate Will Frisbee was able to scope it up and take it on into the end zone. Toser’s third extra point but the difference at 21-19 with 6:17 on the third quarter clock.
After stalling the next Bear possession at its own 45, Ooltewah was able to chew up the clock with a 13-play drive that made it as far as the Bear 8 before a couple of penalties and two strong defensive plays by junior Warren Crisp, moved them back out of the Red Zone. The hosts had to settle for a 44-yard field goal try, but while Toser had plenty of leg behind the kick, it sailed outside the upright.
Bradley went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but when the snapped sailed over the punter’s head, the Owls were handed a golden opportunity at the Bear 4 and cashed in immediately as Edward Hayes carried the ball in on the very next play.
Trailing 28-19 with 9 1/2 minutes to play, Bradley bounced back with a 12-play drive that took them to the Ooltewah 4 yard line, but a tackle for loss and an incomplete pass force the Black-and-Gold to make a decision. With 4:37 on the clock and needing two scores to retake the lead, the Bear coaches decided to go ahead and get the short field goal, however, an Owl broke through the line and was able to block the kick.
Taking over on its own 7, Ooltewah was able to get one first down, but came up short for a second and lined up to punt. In a “what goes around, comes around” situation, the ball sailed over the Owl punter’s head, giving possession back to the Bears at the 7 yard line.
Overcoming another bad snap for a 14-yard loss on the first play after the turnover, Bradley was able to come back with a nine-yard pass to senior Cal Pickel and a 12-yard toss to classmate Logan Fetzner, who was able to spin away from a would-be tackler to break the plane of the goal line for his first touchdown of the season.
With just 1:54 remaining, the Bears needed to regain possession and Fetzner recovered the onside kick attempt, however, a referee’s flag said the ball was touched before going the required 10 yards.
With the ball and Bradley out of timeouts, Ooltewah was able to run out the clock to secure the hard fought victory.
“We had some lapses and made some mental mistakes that cost us, but overall we played well I thought,” assessed Coach Floyd. “We knew going in it was going to be a tough game and whoever made the least mistakes would probably win.”
Bradley struggled to get its running game going, gaining just 40 yards on 31 rushes, while the Owls gained 152 yards on 30 carries. The Bears out gained the hosts through the air, with Standifer completing 20-of-36 passes for 250 yards, while Binder connected on 18-of-24 for 186 for Ooltewah.
Standifer added 54 rushing yards on 19 carries to exceed the 300-yard mark for total offense in the contest.
Dee Crisp led the Bradley receivers with 10 catches for 79 yards and the two scores before leaving the game with 6:34 left after taking a helmet to the knee. The extent of the injury was not know as of press time. Pickel gained 64 yards on just four catches.
Defensively for the Bears, senior linebacker Eduardo Trevino reached double digits in tackles for the third straight game since his return from off-season knee and back surgery. Dee Crisp was in on nine tackles.
Hayes paced the Owl offense with 156 total yards, with 98 on a dozen carries, plus 58 more on seven receptions. A trio of Ooltewah defenders had double digit tackles — Alonzo Blackwell (11), Williams (10) and Jeremiah Jackson (10).