Ron Crawford’s Raiders struggled on their first possession against Wilson Central and again on their first offensive play then settled down, found their balance with a solid passing and running game and controlled the rest of the night, pulling out an impressive 33-13 win over the Wildcats.
“We’ve been pretty good at being able to develop some poise. We’ve really worked hard and preached hard to play with enthusiasm and passion and to keep our poise. It’s a 48-minute game, and I think we’re doing a better job of being a more level football team now. But, we’ve got some veteran players, and we should be,” Crawford said.
Wilson Central looked to make it a long night for “Ron’s Raiders,” driving 90 yards on the game’s opening possession to take a 7-0 lead.
Cleveland fumbled on its first play from scrimmage but recovered defensively to hold the Wildcats to only seven first-quarter points.
“We knew they are athletic. No. 7 (Gabe Angel) and No. 8 (Alex Price) are really good football players. A lot of times when you play a wing T team it takes you a drive to settle your kids in. We made some mistakes in the first drive that we corrected. The kids fixed them and did a great job of fixing them then did a solid job the rest of the evening against a good football team from Middle Tennessee,” said Crawford. “It was a quality win for our program at the stage we are at.”
The Blue Raiders closed the first quarter, forcing a Wilson Central punt deep in its own territory and taking over at the Wildcat’s 42-yard line with 1:26 left in the period. Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink connected with DJ Jones on the first play of the drive with a 37-yard pass to the Wilson Central 5-yard line. The Raiders ended the quarter two plays later at the Wildcats’ 3-yard line.
Herink opened the second quarter, racing five yards for the touchdown. Oscar Galvan’s extra point made it a 7-7 game.
Wilson Central missed a chance to take a 3-point lead with a missed field goal from 51-yards out. After taking possession on its own 20, Cleveland marched to the Wildcats 6-yard line where Galvan put the Raiders out front with a 23-yard field goal.
Cleveland pounced on a Wilson Central fumble on the ensuing kick at the Wildcats’ 25-yard line. A Wilson Central pass interference call moved the ball to the 13 where Herink found Parker Smith open for a 12-yard touchdown toss to put the Blue Raider on top 17-7 with just over two minutes left in the half.
The Blue Raiders opened the third at their own 20-yard line and moved to the Wilson Central before an interception set the Wildcats up at their own 20. A solid offensive effort capped by Weston Rountree’s 35-yard run for a Wildcats TD closed the gap to 17-13 midway through the quarter.
Starting on their own 35, the Blue Raiders used a 15-yard keeper by Herink, and a Herink to Eric Goodwin connection good for 39 yards to set up shop at the Wilson Central 13. Herink then found TJ Parker for seven yards. Jones closed the deal with a 5-yard rumble to the end zone.
“Austin is always consistent for us. He made one mistake that we’d all like to have back. Every accolade he gets he deserves. He works very hard, and his teammates think the world of him. They know he competes hard. He’s been overlooked. He got an offer to UT Martin this week, and that’s wonderful. The kid can play at a big time level in my opinion. We’re proud of his effort, and he will continue to work to get better and clean up his mistakes,” Crawford said of his senior QB who threw 22 times for 230 yards.
After a Cleveland punt to the Wilson Central 5-yard line, Cleveland addled to the score with a safety to take a 26-13 lead.
After forcing a Wilson Central punt with just under eight minutes left in the game, Cleveland finished up the night with a 70-yard drive highlighted by a 28-yard burst by Parker and a Herink to Parker 43-yard pitch and catch to the Wildcats’ 3-yard line. Jones pushed his way to the 1-foot line where Herink put the final touches on the 33-13 win with a final TD with 2:02 left on the clock.
“It was a solid effort. We have areas we can improve upon. The kids have to understand what got us here was practicing well and trying to improve. If we do that, we will see some solid improvement next week,” said Crawford.
Wilson Central 7 0 6 0 — 13
Cleveland 0 17 7 9 — 33
WC — Alex Price 22 pass from Jordan Rountree (Brad Cavanough kick), 7:30
C — Austin Herink 5 run (Oscar Galvan kick), 11:54
C — Galvan 23 field goal, 3:01
C — Parker Smith 10 pass from Herink (Galvan kick), 2:2
WC — Weston Rountree 35 run (kick failed), 6:16
C — DJ Jones 5 run (Galvan kick), 3:34
C — Safety, 9:49
C — Herink 1 run (Galvan kick), 2:02
Team stats WC CHS
First downs 16 19
Rushes-yards 49-182 27-176
Passing yards 80 230
Total yards 262 406
Comp-Att-Int 6-13-0 15-22-1
Punts -Ave. 4-39.0 2-50.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-2
Penalties 6-70 3-35
Records: Wilson Central 2-2; Cleveland 3-1.