Senior QB Austin Herink, who had thrown two of his team’s three touchdowns, could only watch helplessly from the sidelines as the Raider defense went head-to-head with a desperate Ooltewah team.
“I just wanted to be out there playing. I prayed the whole time and didn’t watch most of it because my eyes were closed. It was just like one of those games where your favorite team is on TV, and you can’t really watch it because you’re afraid of the outcome,” Herink explained.
With his team trailing 26-21, Owls quarterback Brody Binder searched for an open man to make the winning pass to, only to find himself forced by the Raiders’ Kimsey Bell to throw the ball away in those last few pivotal seconds.
The horn sounded, marking the end of the Owls’ undefeated District 5-AAA record and a monumental victory for the seventh-ranked Raiders on their Senior Night.
“We had two big cross-town rival games, and winning this game just made it even better. It was a great way to go out for the seniors,” Herink declared.
For Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford, the evening capped off a season that fully displayed his team’s hard work and effort.
“What a great effort by a great group of young men. I’m proud of our staff and all of our kids have done a great job hanging in their with us,” Crawford proclaimed. “Getting a share of the district title in our second year is huge for us. We’re very excited, but mostly I’m just proud of these guys. They worked hard, and something good finally happened to them,”
For Cleveland, who had taken the lead over Ooltewah at 10:43 in the second quarter, the second half of the ball game was a battle of wills, as their lead was chipped away by the Owls’ offense to just five points.
“We left points out on the field, and we needed to have that stop in the end. We got some good pressure on him [Binder] and were able to hang on,” Crawford described. “Give Ooltewah credit; they made us kick field goals and that’s always scary to do against a team that is dynamic like them. In the end, we were resilient and hung on long enough to get the win.”
The evening got off to a less than stellar start for the Raiders, as a fumble on the very first snap of the game gave Ooltewah the chance to recover the ball at great field position.
From Cleveland’s 20 yard line it took the Owls senior running back Desmond Pittman two plays to cross into the end zone only 20 seconds into the game.
Not letting the miscue derail them, the Raiders took the ensuing kickoff and put together a 14-play drive inside the Owl 10 yard line, but after about six minutes and a half dozen first downs, Cleveland had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Oscar Galvan with 5:09 remaining in the first quarter.
Ooltewah answered with a 14-play march of its own, but on a gutsy call to go for it on a fourth-down play from the 1/2 yard line, Cleveland was able to keep the visitors from reaching paydirt again, and an incomplete pass gave the home team the ball back in just in front of their own end zone.
Three plays later, Herink fired off a 95-yard missile to Tyler Davis, who was able to run it in for a touchdown at 10:43 in the second quarter. With the extra point by Galvan, the Raiders took a 10-7 lead over the Owls.
After immediately getting the ball back on a fumbled kick return, the “Boys in Blue” marched back into the Red Zone but once again were forced to call on Galvan for another 22-yard field goal with 5:45 left in the half.
The Raiders got a third quick chance when senior Michael Huff picked off a pass on the second play of the next Owl possession.
Although Cleveland was unable to capitalize on the interception, they were able to reach hallowed ground after exchanging three-and-out possessions and a short punt by Ooltewah.
Starting at the Owls’ 36 yard line, it only took only a couple of plays before TJ Parker was able to run the ball in 27 yards for a Raider touchdown at 1:32 in the second quarter.
Huff had another moment to shine just moments later, as he recovered a fumbled pass by the visitors.
“On the interception I saw it get tipped and had to dive for it and it almost hit the ground, but I was able to cup my hands around it. I stripped it on the fumble recovery. It kind of just fell right there, we just looked at each other and dove at it,” Huff explained.
Cleveland was forced to attempt another field goal, this time 38 yards, but came up short with 17 seconds left in the half.
The first half ended with Bell sacking the Ooltewah QB, and the Raiders having a solid 20-7 lead.
After the intermission, Cleveland was able to capitalize on another Owl turnover midway through the third frame for what turned out to be the game-winning difference.
Jay McIntyre was able to pick off an Ooltewah pass at 5:12 in the third, which gave Cleveland the ball at the Owl 35.
A half dozen plays later, Herink connected with DJ Jones for a four-yard scoring toss to push the lead to 19 points with 2:52 remaining in the third quarter.
The Owls answered on the ensuing drive, covering 65 yards in eight plays, with a three-yard run to the end zone by Pittman with 41 ticks on the third quarter clock.
Another Ooltewah touchdown came at 8:25 in the fourth quarter, after a 12 yard pass from Binder to Edward Hayes brought the visitors within five points of Cleveland.
The Raiders burned six minutes off the clock on what was their final drive. The drive came up short as once again the Owls forced Cleveland to attempt a 25-yard field goal, which was no good.
With 2:45 remaining in the close contest, Ooltewah attempted to make a game-winning drive, but the 13th play of the series proved unlucky as Kimsey’s pressure forced Binder’s final toss into the end zone to sail high out of reach of an Owl receiver.
The unsuccessful drive solidified a piece of the District 5-AAA championship for Cleveland on their final game of the regular season, and also dealt Ooltewah their first district loss of the season.
At 7-3 overall and 5-1 in district play, the Raiders have secured at least a part of the 5-AAA title, but need some help from crosstown rival Bradley Central (5-4, 2-3) in Friday’s night’s finale against fourth-ranked East Hamilton (7-2, 4-1).
The Hurricanes dropped a tough 27-24 contest at 10th-ranked Rhea County this week and are the team that handed Cleveland its lone district loss. If the Bears prevail this week, then Cleveland will be the 5-AAA champs, but if the ’Canes hold strong there will be a three-way tie at the top, provided Ooltewah defeats McMinn County Friday as well.
“It feels amazing to get out there and get that district championship,” Huff proclaimed.
Parker finished the night with a total of 84 rushing yards in 20 attempts, while Ooltewah’s star running back, Pittman, was held to just 78 rushing yards in 21 attempts.
Herink completed 19-of-26 passes for a total of 243 yards and two touchdowns. Binder completed 23-of-31 passes for a total of 172 yards, which included two interceptions and a touchdown.
The Raiders finished the night with a total of 368 offensive yards, while the Owls had 330 yards.
Cleveland’s bye week falls on the final week of the regular season, and the team will find out who their playoff opponent is on Nov. 2.
High School Football
Team District Overall
#7 Cleveland 5-1 7-3
#3 Ooltewah 4-1 7-2
#4 East Hamilton 4-1 7-2
McMinn County 3-2 4-5
Bradley Central 2-3 5-4
Walker Valley 0-5 3-6
Soddy-Daisy 0-5 3-6
Friday, Oct. 25
Cleveland 26, Ooltewah 21
Bradley Central 36, Soddy-Daisy 7
McMinn County 32, Walker Valley 0
Rhea County 27, East Hamilton 24
Friday, Nov. 1
Bradley Central at East Hamilton, 7:30
Walker Valley at Soddy-Daisy, 7:30
Ooltewah at McMinn County, 7:30
Cleveland has a bye
Team District Overall
#6 Polk County 3-0 7-2
Sequoyah 2-1 7-2
McMinn Central 2-2 4-5
Sweetwater 1-2 4-5
Loudon 0-3 3-6
Friday, Oct. 25
South Pittsburg 30, Polk County 24
Sweetwater 31, Kingston 28
Sequoyah 35, Clinton 8
Loudon 48, Austin-East 20
McMinn Central had a bye
Friday, Nov. 1
Loudon at Polk County, 7:30
Chatt. Central at McMinn Central, 7:30
Sequoyah at Sweetwater, 7:30
Ooltewah 7 0 7 7 — 21
Cleveland 3 17 6 0 — 26
O — Desmond Pittman 8 yd run (Laslo Toser kick), 11:40
C — Oscar Galvan 22 yd field goal, 5:09
C — Austin Herink 95 yd pass to Tyler Davis (Galvan kick), 10:43
C — Galvan 22 yd field goal, 5:45
C — TJ Parker 27 yd run (Galvan kick), 1:32
C — Herink 4 yd pass to DJ Jones (pass failed), 2:52
O — Pittman 2 yd run (Toser kick), :41
O — Brody Binder 12 yd pass to Edward Hayes (Toser kick), 8:25
First downs 15 14
Rushes-yards 31-158 40-125
Passing yards 172 243
Total yards 330 368
Comp-Att-Int 23-31-2 19-26-0
Punts -Ave. 2-29 4-38
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 3-1
Penalties 6-55 4-30
Rushing: TJ Parker 20-84 TD, Raekwon Bunion 7-31, Austin Herink 7-21 (C); Desmond Pittman 21-78 (O).
Passing: Austin Herink 19-26-243 2 TDs (C); Brody Binder 23-31-172 TD (O).
Receiving: Tyler Davis 5-123 TD, DJ Jones 4-24 TD, Eric Goodwin 4-36, Parker Smith 4-30 (C).
Records: Cleveland 7-3, 5-1 District 5-AAA; Ooltewah 7-2, 4-1.