“We didn’t handle our afternoon very well from the meal to getting on the bus, and then the trip wasn’t very good for us — all of that showed in the first half,” Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford said. “We didn’t handle our pre-game and trip well, and that’s on me. I’ll get us more focused and ready to play for our next opportunity.”
After a stressful trip north that included having to detour around an accident that snarled traffic on Interstate 75, the Raiders arrived later than they had planned for the battle of state-ranked Class 5A teams. They soon found themselves entrenched in a brutal onslaught from the West Rebels, who were able to score all five of their touchdowns in the first half.
Despite a late rally, fourth-ranked Cleveland was still handed a 35-25 loss by the No. 3 rated Rebels.
“We just had some self-inflicted wounds in the first half. We blew our coverage, had a turnover for a touchdown and another fumble that gave them great field position. We just weren’t in sync,” Crawford commented.
The Rebels proved that their past three years as a playoff contending team was no fluke, as they were able to score four touchdowns in the first quarter.
Both Michael Huff and QB Austin Herink were taken out for a play on Cleveland’s first possession with penalties for equipment issues.
After the Raiders went three-and-out in the game’s opening possession, West scored on its first play from scrimmage as quarterback Seth Marshall broke free on a 54-yard touchdown run just 104 seconds into the contest.
The hosts would add insult to injury only 10 seconds later, when Max Bacon snatched an interception and bolted 40 yards for a “Pick 6.” Manny Ruiz’s kick put the Raiders in a 13-0 hole before the game was two minutes old.
Cleveland was able to make it down the field three minutes later, as TJ Parker tumbled over a Rebel to cap off his 16-yard run to the end zone. Oscar Galvan’s kick put the Raiders within a touchdown of the Rebels.
The gritty Knox West team appeared unphased by the Cleveland score and added 15 more points — a one-yard plunge by Marshall and 25-yard pass to Cameron Trainer — to the scoreboard before the first quarter was finished.
The Raiders got back on the scoreboard at 10:33 in the second, when senior QB Austin Herink got a six-yard toss to classmate DJ Jones in the end zone.
The Rebels got what turned out to be their final touchdown of the evening at the 4:25 mark in the second quarter on a six-yard run by Nathan Cottrell.
Cleveland threatened near the close of the first half, getting into the Red Zone at the West 16 with a little less than 15 seconds remaining in the half.
However, any hope of getting a last-second score was dashed as Rebel Alex Burch picked off Raider pass.
Going into halftime, the Rebels had a solid 35-13 lead.
The Knox West show found itself canceled as a more focused and attentive Cleveland team came to play in the second half.
“We got back, got refocused and played a lot better in the second half, actually giving ourselves a chance. I thought we played hard; we have some guys who are hurt that really stepped up and played well for us,” Crawford stated. “I think offensively we stayed with the running job and did a great job, but defensively we didn’t start out in sync. Once we got in sync and gave them some better calls and did some other things, we started to make West search. We played much better in the second half.”
In six quick plays to start the third quarter, Cleveland was able to force West to turnover the ball at the Raiders’ 36 yard line.
The “Boys in Blue” marched down the field, and, with 3:20 remaining in the third, Herink got a four-yard pass into the waiting hands of Eric Goodwin for the third Raider touchdown of the evening.
Near the start of the fourth quarter, Cleveland attempted a 14-yard field goal which was blocked by Burch.
The Rebels found themselves turning the ball over four plays later to the Raiders.
Parker and Herink led the scoring charge for Cleveland, and, five carries and two passes later, a 25-yard rocket made it to the hands of Tyler Davis in the end zone with 6:35 remaining in the game.
The Raiders attempted their second two-point conversion of the evening, only to come up empty handed once again.
Even though they had battled back and held Knox West scoreless throughout the second half, their late rally was not enough to earn Cleveland the victory.
Burch picked off another Raider pass and made it 20 yards before being taken down.
A carry by Nathan Cottrell gained another 25 yards for the Rebels, putting them only four yards out from reaching paydirt once again.
With 36.4 seconds left in the game Marshall took a knee, effectively ending the game 35-25.
Parker led the Raiders rushing efforts and racked up a total of 130 yards Friday night.
Herink completed 27 of his 38 attempted passes, for a total of 256 yards.
Both Jay McIntyre and Jones were able to pick off Rebel passes in the end zone.
The battle has just begun for Cleveland, who will now face four District 5-AAA opponents in as many weeks.
The tough row-to-hoe begins Friday with a trip to district newcomer East Hamilton, which is ranked sixth in the latest 5A poll.
The Hurricanes, who were off this past week, have only lost to Ooltewah and are currently 4-1 overall, 1-1 in the district.
The Raiders will follow that game up with their annual battle against arch-rival Bradley Central at Benny Monroe Stadium on Oct. 11.
Cleveland will travel to county rival Walker Valley on Oct. 18 and travel to eighth-ranked Ooltewah to close out the regular season the following week.
Coach Crawford hopes Friday night’s battle with West will be a learning experience for his team.
“I think what we have to take away from this is that we can’t have the self-inflicted wounds,” Crawford explained. “We can’t get behind early and change the ways that we approach the game.”
Cleveland 7 6 6 6 — 25
West Knox 28 7 0 0 — 35
KW — Seth Marshall 54 yd run (kick failed), 10:16
KW — Max Bacon 40 yd interception return (Manny Ruiz kick), 10:06
C — TJ Parker 16 yd run (Galvan kick), 7:03
KW — Seth Marshall 1 yd run (Ruiz kick), 4:56
KW — Cameron Trainer 25 yd pass from Marshall (pass good) 3:08
C — DJ Jones 6 yd pass from Austin Herink (kick failed), 10:33
KW — Nathan Cottrell 6 yd run (Ruiz kick), 4:25
C — Eric Goodwin 4 yd pass from Herink (pass failed), 3:20
C — Tyler Davis 25 yd pass from Herink (pass failed), 6:35
First downs 19 11
Rushes-yards 27-154 26-266
Passing yards 256 92
Total yards 410 358
Comp-Att-Int 27-38-2 4-9-3
Punts -Ave. N/A N/A
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0
Penalties 3-15 4-50
Rushing: TJ Parker 20-130 TD, Jonathan Terrero 4-14, Austin Herink 6-10 (C).
Passing: Herink 27-38-2 256 2 TDs (C); Seth Marshall 4-9-3 92 TD (KW).
Receiving: DJ Jones 10-89 TD, Tyler Davis 5-57 TD, Parker Smith 4-33, Eric Goodwin 3-20 TD, TJ Parker 4-28, Isaiah Beaty 1-5 (C).
Records: Cleveland 4-2; Knox West 4-1.