A year ago today, Cleveland stunned the Lions, coming into Red Bank and charging out with a 41-6 victory. That win allowed the Raiders to climb back to .500.
Fast forward a year. More than a few familiar faces lined the sidelines as the two teams prepared to square off for the 2012 edition of a football battle that stretches back to the first year (1965) of Blue Raider football.
Yet, there were a few key differences. This season Red Bank is not the state-ranked power it was a year ago. The Lions entered Friday night’s contest at just 1-3. On the other hand, the Cleveland Raiders found themselves at 3-2 and sitting well in contention for the District 5-AAA crown.
The last changes might have been the hardest to miss. As coach Slaughter took to Benny Monroe Stadium, head held high, he displayed the “RB” emblazoned on his baseball cap. While, on the other side of the field, a 3-foot cut out of new Cleveland coach Ron Crawford’s head was proudly displayed by the Raider student section. A change in direction had occurred.
One item that wasn’t different ... the outcome. Cleveland blocked, ran, tackled and passed its way to a dominating and deja vu-inducing performance, beating the Lions 41-7, almost exactly the same score as a year ago.
Play got off to a bang when on the very first play from scrimmage sophomore defensive lineman Koran Kennedy exploded through the Lion line to bring down the runner in the backfield and set the pace of play.
Likewise, it didn’t take Cleveland’s offense long to make its presence felt. On the seventh play of its opening drive, C.J. Bryant turned on the jets, putting six points on the board via a 52-yard tear. Place kicker Jesse Jones put the PAT through to give Cleveland the early 7-0 lead.
Red Bank’s ensuing possession saw the Lions spend more timeouts (2) than gain first downs (1), and facing a fourth-and-3 the team elected to go for it, losing the first of five failed fourth down conversions.
Taking over on their own 44-yard line, Raider quarterback Austin Herink connected with junior Tyler Davis on a slant pass. Davis then escaped the defense and flew all the way to the 3-yard line, setting up a David Morgan touchdown four plays later.
During their next possession the Raider faced a long third down, but Herink found Bryant to move the chains. Then, Herink connected with Morgan for 16 more yards before connecting with Parker Smith, who made a move to beat the defense and scramble into the end zone, putting Cleveland up 21-0 with 8:35 left in the half.
The slaughter continued in the Raiders’ next possession when Herink delivered the ball to three different receivers (Eric Goodwin, Jackson Earle and Bryant) and three different running backs (Bryant, Raekwon Bunion and Morgan). Bryant capped the drive with his second running touchdown and moved the score to 28-0.
Red Bank had one last surge in it before the half, taking advantage of one of Cleveland’s few weak spots Friday night, kickoff coverage.
“Red Bank’s best offensive play was kickoff return,” said Crawford.
“We needed to be a little more physical on the second level. It was a combination of them and us, but it’s something we are going to look at and improve upon.”
Lion return man Vincent Gordon gave his team a fighting chance at a score when he brought the ball all the way to the Raider 12-yard line.
Despite the great position, Red Bank was unable to turn the advantageous starting point into points. A botched flip led to a loss of 27 yards, and Bunion brought an end to the half when he laid a resounding hit on the ball carrier to expire the clock.
The game picked up in the second half right where it left off in the first. Cleveland’s ensuing possession lasted all of two plays before Jones broke his second 50-plus-yard run to put the Raiders up again by 35 points just 43 seconds into the second half, thus invoking the “mercy rule.”
That’s right, all five of Cleveland opening possessions resulted in touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball Red Bank was setting its own mark, going back-to-back-to-back possessions of failed fourth down conversions to start the second half.
With the clock quickly expiring, Crawford brought out some fresh faces to get some real-game experience. They repaid him by grabbing Cleveland’s sixth and final score.
Bunion kicked things off with 29-yard scamper. Then, Austin Massey connected with Rod Dennard for a six-yard gain.
The next play almost exemplified Red Bank’s season to this point. Dropping back to pass, Massey let fly only to have the ball tipped stright up and come to rest in the arms of a waiting Lion corner who was then blindsided by his own safety, knocking the ball loose and keeping the drive alive.
Cleveland didn’t need any second chances, but the Raiders weren’t going to look a gift lion in the mouth. Two plays later Jonathan Terrero made a hard-nosed run that pushed through the defense for a 22-yard touchdown surge, bringing the score to 41-0 with 2:50 left to play.
Perhaps celebrating a bit too early, the Raiders took their foot off the gas and the Lions made them pay, connecting on a 48-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch to avoid the shutout and bring and end to the game.
“The win feels good. We executed well on both sides of the ball. I did feel like we were a little flat, but I think they (Red Bank) must have been too. Four possessions in the first half with four touchdowns isn’t too shabby. We had some things defensively we felt like we needed to clean up at halftime, but we got those taken care of. I’m just really proud of the guys tonight,” stated Crawford after the victory.
“I think we’ve gotten better as a team. We still have some things to improve upon, but next week will give us a chance to slow down and work on what we need to work on.”
Another victory for Cleveland came in the area of penalties. After seeing double-digit flags throughout the start of the season, the Raiders tallied only a single penalty Friday night, costing them just five yards.
The Raiders get a week off to prepare for a very important District 5-AAA showdown with the defending district champions, the McMinn County Cherokees.
Currently, Cleveland and McMinn are tied at 2-0 in league play with Bradley Central not far behind at 1-0.