For the first time since the rivalry was renewed in 2001, with the exception of 2007 and ’08 when it was the season-opening game, Bradley Central and Cleveland High enter Friday night’s “Crosstown Classic” with identical records.
Being 5-3 overall and 2-1 in District 5-AAA play is not the only similarity between the two teams.
Both offenses are within 50 yards of each other on the season, while the defenses have allowed less than 100 yards’ difference.
The local squads are both in the thick of the TSSAA playoff hunt. The Bears are sitting in the No. 4 spot in the Class 6A, quadrant 2 ranking, while the Blue Raiders are fifth in the same list in 5A.
Both squads are looking to secure better playoff position and a win Friday would do that.
Bradley still has a shot at the district title if they can beat their two longest rivals — Cleveland and district leader McMinn County (7-1, 4-0) the following Friday in the regular season finale in Athens. A win at Bear Stadium would assure the Black-and-Gold at least second place in the district.
The only way the Blue Raiders can win the 5-AAA crown is to win out and have the Cherokees stumble at Soddy-Daisy (2-6, 1-4) tomorrow night and fall to the Bears the following week. Cleveland finishes the regular season at home against Rhea County (1-7, 0-4).
“The Bradley/Cleveland game has enough on the line without adding in all these other things,” proclaimed Damon Floyd, who is preparing to coach in his 10th edition of the rivalry, the last seven as head coach at his alma mater.
“I never got to play in one (the teams didn’t face each other when he was a standout running back at Bradley), but I know this game means so much on its own to the players, that none of the other stuff (playoff considerations) matters.”
“We’re not putting any extra pressure on the kids by worrying about that (the playoffs) right now,” he added. “We are preparing to play Cleveland, our rivals, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Coaching in his first battle of the local rivalry, new Cleveland coach Ron Crawford is emphasizing the present, not the past. “I enjoy rivalry games, but we’ve told the kids, it doesn’t matter who won when or how many times. This game is about the 2012 Raiders taking on the 2012 Bears.”
“Bradley is a good team with several talented players and great coaches, so our focus is making sure we play our best and avoiding costly mistakes,” he assessed. “We are working on playing Bradley this week. Not where we might be in the playoffs. We worry about the things we can control. Not the things we can’t.”
As far as that goes, coach Crawford said, “I tip my cap to the Bradley coaches for they way they’ve held their team together through so many injuries. While they have lost some good players, the fact remains they still have No. 10 (Bryce Copeland), No. 52 (Tennessee commitment Austin Sanders), No. 15 (Dee Crisp), and No. 1 (Logan Fetzner) is back.”
Copeland directs the Bear offense, with the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Sanders anchoring the line, while Crisp leads a strong receiving corps and Fetzner is back in the lineup at tailback.
“In 30 years of coaching, I’ve never faced a four-year starting quarterback,” commented Crawford of Copeland. “He’s a great competitor. He makes things go for them. We can’t afford to let him take over the game.”
The southpaw senior signal caller has completed 111-of-183 passes this season for 1,482 yards and nine touchdowns, while being picked off a half dozen times.
Copeland also leads the Bears in rushing with 510 yards on 109 carries, finding the end zone eight times.
Bradley has utilized 10 different receivers this season with Crisp and Cal Pickel, both juniors, plus senior slot receiver Caleb Cain leading the way.
Crisp leads the team with 516 yards and four touchdowns on just 25 catches, for a 20.6 yards per catch average. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound speedster was knocked out of last week’s game, suffering concussion-like symptoms after a hard hit, but he has been cleared to return for this week’s game.
Pickel is gaining 12 yards a pop, with 360 on a team-leading 30 catches. Cain has scored three times with 240 yards on 20 receptions.
Senior Deshawn McCleary has pulled in 13 catches for 184 yards and a score. Junior Baylor Terrell has added 167 yards on 19 receptions for the Bears.
After gaining 268 all-purpose yards in the season-opener at Polk County, Fetzner injured his ankle in Week 2 at Baylor and didn’t break the 100-yard rushing mark again until last week’s 27-21 win over Walker Valley. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior gained 101 yards on 18 carries against the Mustangs. All totaled he has 499 yards on 82 rushes for a 6.1 average and a half dozen scores.
While the Bears have posted 2,763 yards of offense this season, scoring 194 points, the Blue Raiders lead the area by putting 271 points on the scoreboard while posting 2,716 yards of offense.
Quarterback Austin Herink has been Cleveland’s main aerial weapon with 152 completions in 230 attempts for 1,794 yards and 17 TDs. He has only been picked off twice so far this season.
His backups, sophomores Austin Massey and Jacob Gibson, have helped out by completing 14-of-22 passes for 87 yards and a score.
Like Bradley, the Raiders have spread the ball round, with 14 different receivers getting on the books this year.
Junior DJ Jones leads the area with 577 yards on 42 catches, nine of which have found the end zone.
Tyler Davis, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior, is second on the team with 294 yards on 31 receptions, but is questionable for Friday’s contest.
“Tyler will be a game-time decision, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll play,” commented Crawford. “He has a lower back strain and we don’t want to risk his health if he’s not able to go.”
Cleveland has four other receivers who have reached the 100-yard plateau, including juniors Parker Smith (17-224, 3 TDs) and Jackson Earle (9-100), plus sophomore Eric Goodwin (17-185, TD).
Senior running back CJ Bryant is the Raiders most versatile weapon, having gained 682 yards on 90 carries, including 11 touchdowns, plus pulling in a dozen passes for another 117 yards and a score. He also returned the opening kickoff last week for a 95-yard TD.
“CJ makes people miss. He reminds me of Justin Houston,” coach Floyd said of his recently graduated speedster who gained more than 4,000 all-purpose yards in three seasons.
The Bradley defense leads the area by allowing 2,420 yards, 1,439 of which came on the ground and 981 through the air. Bear opponents have put 177 points on the board.
By comparison, Cleveland’s D has given up 196 points while surrendering 2,526 yards, only 616 of which have come through the air. The Blue Raiders have allowed 1,910 yards on the ground this season.
There won’t be any ESPN national coverage this time around, like in last year’s 18-0 Bear victory, but the intensity level will be high, as neither team likes to lose, especially to the other.
Bradley-Cleveland game info
The annual Bradley-Cleveland football “Crosstown Classic” game will kick off Friday evening in Bear Stadium at 7:30, but the weeklong festivities have already begun.
Bradley Central athletic director Turner Jackson said fans can purchase their tickets ahead of time at either school, as well as at the Town Squire, Medical Center Pharmacy, Gobble Automotive or Cooke’s Food Store.
Tickets will also be sold the night of the game in front of Jim Smiddy Arena. Gates will open at 4:45 p.m. Friday.
Weather permitting, VIP parking will also be available for a $10 donation on the Bradley practice football field, behind the visitors’ stands. “If it’s muddy we won’t do it, but if we can we’ll open it up,” Jackson related. “People wanting to park there will need to come into the field off Harrison Pike onto Country Club Drive to come in the north entrance.”
Jackson also emphasized “there will be no passes out of the stadium and no outside drinks allowed in. If someone leaves they will have to purchase another ticket to get back in. Also if they come up with a cup in hand, they will be required to empty it out before entering the stadium.”
The Bradley Central baseball team will once again be holding a $5 barbecue dinner, plus a corn-hole tournament prior to the game along the left field fence of the baseball field.
A capacity crowd for the 7,000-seat stadium is expected, so fans are encouraged to show up early to get a good seat.