“They are not nearly as bad as their record would have you to believe,” he declared. “They are not the same team they were early in the season.”
Renewing the second-oldest continuous rivalry in the state, the 91st meeting between the neighboring county teams finds the Bears with a 50-37-3 edge in the series that dates back to 1927. However, McMinn has won 12 of the last 13, including back-to-back Fridays last fall in Athens for the regular season finale (34-29) and the opening round (42-22) of the TSSAA playoffs.
“I don’t know what it is, but they have really had our number the last several years,” commented Floyd, who is 1-7 against them since taking over the Bradley program eight years ago. The Bears’ lone victory over their neighbors to the north since 2000 was a 35-7 win in Athens three years ago.
Although both teams are 1-2 in District 5-AAA play and — barring complete collapses by the three state-ranked teams ahead of them — are pretty much out of the league race, the meeting of the two Black-and-Gold squads once again carries postseason implications as both squads are hoping to grab a Class 6A wildcard berth.
If McMinn County (2-5) can win its final three games it could salvage a .500 record and have a shot at the playoffs, but it must face Bradley and Walker Valley before taking on third-ranked (5A) and district leading Ooltewah (7-1, 4-0) in the Nov. 1 regular season finale. All five of the Tribe’s losses have come to state-ranked teams.
Meanwhile the Bears (4-3) are trying to bounce back from back-to-back league losses to the Owls and seventh-ranked Cleveland by a combined three points, with the difference in both coming down to difficulties in the kicking game.
“We’ve had some field goal and extra-point attempts blocked this year and it’s not the kicker’s fault,” expressed coach Floyd. “It’s not just one guy’s fault. We’ve had several different ones that didn’t do their assignments on those plays.”
“Special teams is as important as offense and defense, especially at the high school level,” he added. “Our three losses have come by a total of five points and each can be attributed to special teams mistakes. We try to emphasized to the guys that we can’t afford to take plays off. We have to play all out on every play.”
Bradley’s offense has gained 2,343 yards and scored 200 points (28.8 average per game) so far this season. Senior quarterback Brett Standifer has completed 110-of-181 passes for 1,535 yards, including 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing with 344 yards on 97 carries, including a half dozen that have found the end zone.
The Bears have half of the area’s top six receivers with seniors Dee Crisp and Cal Pickel, along with junior Daniel Clark leading the attack with a combined 1,364 yards and 15 scores.
Crisp, a 6-foot-2 basketball leaper, has pulled down 31 passes for a 16.4 yard average (508 total yards) and has eight receptions for touchdowns. He has also thrown a pair of scoring passes, including a 54-yarder to Pickel in the final two minutes of last week’s game.
Pickel, a 6-foot, 175-pound “Wes Welker type” who plays center field for the baseball Bears, also has 31 catches for 484 yards (15.6 ypc) and a half dozen scores.
Clark, a 6-foot-2 hoops standout, showed off his jumping abilities by pulling a 43-yard bomb away from a pair of defenders last week. He has made several catches of that nature among his 19 receptions for 320 yards (16.8 ypc).
Defensively, Bradley is led by the linebacking trio of Jordan Timmons, Eduardo Trevino and DJ Moyse.
Timmons leads the area with 82 total tackles, including eight for loss and a trio of takeaways. The senior will be playing this week with a cast on his hand after cracking a bone in last week’s contest.
Trevino, who has been back in the lineup for four games after a pair of offseason surgeries, has matched Timmons’ 27 solo tackles among his 61 hits, including 2 1/2 coming behind the line of scrimmage.
Moyse, a sophomore, has been in on 55 tackles, with 6 1/2 being for loss, including a sack.
Junior defensive end Dalton Cooley and Clark have also been impressive with 53 and 51 tackles respectively.
Cooley leads the team with 13 tackles for loss, and a has sacked opposing QBs a half dozen times, plus forced a pair of fumbles. Playing defensive back, Clark has a trio of tackles behind the line.
Although the Bear defense has surrendered more than 2,400 yards and 167 points, they have a 13-5 takeaway-to-turnover ratio.
McMinn has been outscored 136-204, with a 36-20 win over McMinn Central in the season opener and a 42-7 thumping of Soddy-Daisy two weeks ago accounting for more than half of the Tribe points this season.
Coach Bo Cagle’s Cherokees played a tough game against fourth-ranked East Hamilton last Friday, trailing just 3-0 at the half before coming out on the short end of a 24-12 final tally. “Big plays” hurt McMinn in the loss with a trio of Hurricane scoring plays going for 74, 70 and 43 yards.
Matt Derrickson had an 81-yard punt return for one Tribe touchdown and caught an 11-yard pass six seconds before the final horn for the other.
McMinn sophomore running back D.J. Kimpson had a career-high 123 yards on 18 carries, while backfield mate Dre Sanders had 91 total yards on 10 carries and five receptions before leaving the game with a mild concussion in the third quarter.
Sanders is being held out of contact drills this week, but is expected to play Friday evening.
“Sanders and Kimpson can fly and their quarterback (Corbin Powers) can run as well,” remarked Coach Floyd. “Defensively they are a lot like us. they are a very sound, well-coached team. They run a lot of screen passes and can make you pay if you sit back on them, or if you come after them [too aggressively].”
The only common opponent for the teams so far this season is Cleveland, which nipped Bradley in a 21-20 heartbreaker and whipped the Cherokees 49-7 back in Week 3.
“No matter what the records are, McMinn always gets up to play us. I expect nothing less from them again this time,” proclaimed coach Floyd.
With a large homecoming crowd expected at Bear Stadium for the 7:30 kickoff, the gates will open at 5:30 p.m.
The game will be the 999th in Bradley football history and the 82nd for Floyd as the head coach, moving him past Bill “Chief” Robertson into third place in number of games coached.