Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford knew going into Friday night’s game that his team had a chance to earn themselves a playoff berth.
By the end of 48 minutes, there were no doubts to be had about the Blue Raiders playoff aspirations.
“We talked about leaving no doubt this off season, now we’re in and we’ve got an opportunity to play for the district championship next week,” Crawford declared. “It was fun for our kids and they’ve worked very hard for this. I believe our program has improved and I know we’ve got some good young men who are playing very hard.”
Despite their best efforts, Walker Valley was unable to throw a wrench in the Raiders’ gears as Cleveland went on to win 48-14.
“They just blew us up out front. Cleveland is good football team, but I still believe in our bunch and we’ve just got to keep working,” Mustang head coach Glen Ryan said.”We can’t keep our heads down, we’ve got to keep working and do the things we can control.”
It took the Raiders exactly four minutes and two first downs to work their way down the field from their own 35 yard line.
Senior QB Austin Herink was able to get a 26-yard pass to Eric Goodwin for Cleveland’s first touchdown of the evening.
After a short three-and-out by Mustangs, the Raiders quickly found their way into the end zone once again.
Herink made a quick trip from the two yard line to reach paydirt at 5:02 in the first quarter.
Walker Valley was unable to make it past their own 35 yard line for the entirety of the first.
Cleveland’s next touchdown came at 8:32 in the second, as Herink found DJ Jones for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
The Mustangs came to life in their next possession, with Colton Morrow leading the charge for a 96-yard touchdown on the kickoff return.
“We’re seeing glimmers out of the guys, we’ve just got to take those glimmers and have them come back-to-back and get some consistency. We have moments that show what we’re capable of doing, we’ve just got to be able to do that down in and down out,” Ryan stated.
Unfortunately for Walker Valley, the Raiders squelched any momentum the Mustangs could gather when Herink fired off a 63-yard rocket to Jones for a touchdown on a third down play with 6:31 remaining in the first half.
Moments later, Herink followed up his previous touchdown pass with a 70-yard missile to Tyler Davis for a touchdown at 4:05 in the second quarter.
The Mustangs were able to answer back in the very next possession.
Chandler Hunt carried the ball in from five yards out in the last 12 seconds of the first half, for what was Walker Valley’s final trip to the end zone on Friday night.
“They punched it at us a little bit and we didn’t expect that formation that they were doing, but overall it’s hard to complain. We stopped them with our young guys in there at the end,” Crawford stated.
Cleveland scored twice more in the third quarter with a 30-yard pass to Davis at 8:34 and a 16-yard pass to Goodwin at 4:04.
The home team attempted to muster something up near the end of the third, only to have QB Cory Cook’s pass intercepted by Jonathan Terrero at Cleveland’s 30 yard line.
Neither team saw any touchdown action in the fourth quarter, as the Mustangs were able to tighten the reins on the pillaging Raiders.
@:Oscar Galvan was 6-for-7 on extra point attempts for Cleveland, while Kevin Sebany was 2-for-2 on extra point attempts for Walker Valley.
Cleveland’s potent offense once again exploded for numbers with 478 total yards, including an 18-of-21 passing night from Herink for 349 yards and a half dozen touchdowns. It was the second game this season, Herink keyed seven TDs. Against McMinn County he threw for three and ran four scores in.
Jones and Davis pulled in a pair of scores apiece, with the former making seven catches for 139 yards and the latter five for 137.
The Raider ground game went for 121 yards with junior Raekwon Bunion carrying the load with 84 yards on a dozen rushes.
For Walker Valley, Hunt carried the rock 26 times for 115 of the Mustangs’ 200 yards of total offense.
Both teams will face challenging opponents next Friday.
For Cleveland, they will have their chance to tie for the district championship when they host Ooltewah (7-1, 4-0), who has yet to suffer a loss to District 5-AAA team.
“I’m super proud of them, but we certainly have a challenge to face next week. We want to be really sound all the way around and are still working on playing that perfect game,” Crawford commented. “We have the ability now to tie for the championship, with three teams possibly at 5-1.”
The Raiders are now 6-3 overall and 4-1 in district play. East Hamilton (7-1, 4-1), which handed Cleveland its lone district defeat, but lost to the Owls, is the third team that could tie for the 5-AAA crown, if they can get past Bradley Central in the regular season finale, Nov. 1.
For the down-trodden Mustangs (3-5, 0-4), next Friday brings a tough McMinn County team to “The Corral.”
The Cherokees (3-5, 2-2) defeated Bradley Central 28-8 Friday night
“McMinn is playing well right now. It doesn’t get any easier — that is going to be a dogfight right there,” Ryan stated. “We’re going to have to go out and play a great football game if we even want to have a chance.”