It will be a homecoming of two kinds Friday night as Cleveland High School celebrates the annual event and former Blue Raider head coach E.K. Slaughter brings his new Red Bank Lions to face a CHS team he was at the helm of this time last season.
Slaughter’s time with Cleveland High School got off to a rocky start in 2009, when the team posted just it’s second losing record in school history (3-8). Despite the rough start, the Raiders still managed to make the playoffs that year, losing by a single point to eventual state-runner up Columbia Central in the opening round.
The next season the team bounced back, going 6-5. But, once again the squad failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Last season the team was forced to settle for .500 and missed the postseason completely, causing Slaughter and the high school to part company.
Despite the history between Slaughter and the Raiders, new Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford said it has provided little distraction to the team’s preparation for the upcoming contest.
“It doesn’t say Crawford and Slaughter on the uniforms. It says Red Bank and Cleveland,” Crawford related with a smile.
“Red Bank and Cleveland have been playing football against each other for quite a while. After E.K. and I are gone from these places they will continue to play against each other. He and I have established a pretty good relationship, sharing football information. He’s a good guy. So, we have been preaching to the kids this week that this game has nothing to do with that.”
Cleveland will be coming into Friday night riding high on one of their most impressive performances of the season, a 56-28 lambasting of a then 3-0 Walker Valley squad.
“We knew we needed to get off to a really good start against Walker Valley, and we did. Normally we like to defer and get the ball in the second half, but we were able to get C.J. (Bryant) a big run and got some more of the ground game going. Then we were able to turn right back around in the next possession and get a score. That was big for us,” Crawford explained.
“I couldn’t have been more pleased with that first half. That’s the best football we’ve played all year.”
Despite last week’s strong performance the team continues to look inward and focus on improving on fundamentals and performance, according to the head coach. The Raiders will have to be on top of their game when they face a 1-3 Lion crew who has caught some tough breaks this season.
“This is a very talented team coming in. They remind me a lot of Ooltewah. When we watched them on film, if they weren’t our next opponents, we would almost feel bad for them. They just haven’t caught a break. But, we know if they get some of those breaks Friday night it could be trouble for us,” Crawford said.
One positive for the Raiders was their ability to get in a week’s worth of quality practices despite the less than ideal weather conditions earlier in the week.
However, the team will be shorthanded with junior wideout D.J. Jones forced to sit the bench after a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties during the game against Walker Valley. After reviewing game film the team unsuccessfully pursed an appeal process.
“We shared the film with the officiating crew and the state office. There is no appeals process for a judgment call. When you see it on film it’s difficult to find it. But, we will professionally respect the opinion of the officials and follow the rules,” Crawford expressed.
In more positive news, Both Jackson Earle and T.J. Parker were released to practice Wednesday after sustaining injuries during last Friday’s game. Crawford stated that if practice goes well they will be available Friday night.
Obviously, a win against Red Bank is important to the Raiders, but it might be doubly so with a bye week coming up the week after. Cleveland will have to digest this game for two weeks, before a very important game at McMinn County against the vaunted Cherokees.