The time to play football is here.
Cleveland opens the 2012 football season on the road with certainly one of the biggest tests the Ron Crawford led team will face all season, against the Maryville Rebels.
The Blue Raiders are the opening act in a doubleheader at Alcoa High School. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.
“We had better be ready,” Crawford said of facing the defending state 6-A champions. “We are playing probably the perennial state power, the best 6-A team in the last three years in the state and until then the best 5-A team. We had better be ready.”
The Raiders (5-5 in 2011) will have to be at the top of their game when they kick off against the Rebels (15-0 in 2011). Crawford said the kicking game is one of the best weapons enjoyed by the renegades.
“The first thing you get is they are always excellent in the kicking game. Kickoffs are going to go into the end zone or near it. They are going to execute in every phase of the kicking game,” Crawford said with respect.
“Offensively, they won’t beat themselves. They don’t do a lot, but they execute very, very well. They have three game breakers on offense who can score on any play.”
The coach emphasized the Rebels defense team that is more than capable of keeping an opposing offense in from of it. He said Cleveland will be facing a team that knows how to win from practicing and acting like winners.
“Defensively they will kind of keep things in front of them and make you execute. They are an organization that has been together for a long time. They have kids that understand how to win and how to go about practice and how to go about carrying themselves. They are a quality program,” he said.
The coach went on to say he wants to see some of the Rebels’ quality rub off on the Blue Raiders by not concerning themselves with the scoreboard or time left on the clock.
“We’d like to see the same thing from us. We’d like to see us have the ability to execute in all phases of the game. We are youthful in some of those phases, but that’s not an excuse at this point,” said Crawford. “I’d like to see us not worry about the scoreboard and not worry about our opponent, just worry about us. We need to control the things we can control and that is controlling ourselves. That is going to be our focus.”
Youth in areas could show up at times in the Cleveland lineup, but a willingness to be competitive and aggressive is one of the factors he will be keeping an eye out for.
“I want to see us compete. We want to compete for 48 minutes and play like there is no scoreboard. We want to just compete so we can make our fans and our administration proud by the way we competed,” said Crawford.
Protecting the ball, Crawford emphasized, is at the top of the list for a Blue Raiders’ victory. Facing a team with seasoned veterans in multiple positions will be even harder if Cleveland does not protect and execute, and thus loses control of the prescribed game plan.
“We’ve got to protect the football, that is No. 1. That is a stock answer, but it is the truth. You always have to protect the football. We can’t give them any easy touchdowns due to turnovers,” Crawford said of playing fundamentally sound football. “We’ve got to execute our schemes in the kicking game. We have to somehow neutralize that part of it. I don’t think we can gain an advantage there, but we do have good returners. Maybe through the return game we might can gain an advantage.”
He also said when the Blue Raiders are on defense, they must make the Rebels play their best and abstain from straying out of position.
“Defensively, we’ve got to make them execute. We can’t let them get us out of position. We’ve got to make sure we ... play our responsibilities and force them to drive the football,” he stated.
The starting 22 are pretty much set for Saturday’s kickoff. Austin Herink will be under center with C.J. Bryant in the backfield. “We’ve got to get him the ball and get him loose,” Crawford said of his speedster.
D.J. Jones will step out to the wide receiver slot and Trent Crouch and Robert McMahan will anchor the offensive line, according to the Cleveland coach.
On the defensive side of the ball, David Morgan will need to be at his best in the defensive backfield. Reed Allison and C.J. Bryant also must step up to lend a hand. “We’ve gotten great play out of our corners with Raekwon Bunion and Jones,” said Crawford.
“We are going to try and take what the defense gives us with their returners and the defensive line. We have to be able to create some space so we can get some of our backs loose,” said Crawford.