CHATTANOOGA — Bradley Central’s offense was clicking on all cylinders as the eighth-ranked Bears blew by East Hamilton Friday night.
“I’m real proud of our offense. They executed real well and scored on our first six possessions,” praised Bradley head coach Damon Floyd after the 42-7 victory to move his Bears to 3-1 heading into a bye week.
Senior speedster Justin Houston returned to the Bradley lineup after missing last week’s game with a groin pull and gained 212 yards, including touchdown runs of 2, 11 and 83 yards.
“Justin could have played last week if we needed him, but it was best to rest him,” Floyd explained. “He practiced all week and didn’t have any problems, so we didn’t see the need to rest him again, especially going into the bye week.”
Houston gained 155 yards on just 10 carries, but lowered his season’s yard per carry average from 19.0 to 17.4. He has gained 383 yards on 22 rushes this season and has had a pair of three-touchdown games. Houston also caught a pair of passes for 57 yards in Friday’s victory.
Bear junior quarterback Bryce Copeland also hooked up with all-state wide out James Stovall on a half dozen passes for 55 yards, including touchdown tosses of 16 and 11 yards in less than a minute near the end of the opening half.
Bradley compiled 384 yards of offense, with 270 coming on the ground as Logan Fetzner added 37 yards on seven carries, Copeland gained 36 on a pair of rushes and senior Rue Goldston bobbed-and-weaved his way for 32 on just four tries, including a 12-yard dash to paydirt.
The Bears opened the contest with a 70-yard, nine-play scoring drive that saw Houston touch the ball five times, including a pass across the middle that he carried for 47 yards. He finished off the drive with a two-yard sweep around the right end.
Sophomore Clayton Steels came on to boot his first of six extra points on the night with 8:54 left in the first quarter. He has been good on 21-of-22 PATs so far this season.
East Hamilton (1-3) answered with a 13-play march of its own. Starting on their own 28, the Hurricanes drove to the Bear 9, before back-to-back tackles for loss by sophomore Edwardo Trevino and senior Tyler Stanley set up a third-and-goal from the 12.
Coach Ted Gatewood went to his bag of tricks and pulled out a flea flicker to get his team on the board. Sophomore quarterback Hunter Moore tossed a quick pass to junior Christopher Moore on the sideline, who in turn threw it back across the field in a lateral pass to his younger brother, who then raced into the end zone.
The Bears came right back with Goldston returning the squibbed kickoff 42 yards to the ’Cane 41. Five plays later, Houston found the end zone for the second time, this one from 11 yards out.
East Hamilton returned to Bear territory on the following drive, making it to the 33 before the ball was stripped free and Bradley junior L.J. Goodridge pounced on it at the 18.
A 30-yard dash by Copeland highlight the third scoring drive, which Goldston finished off by breaking a number of tackles while covering the final 12 yards.
After the Bear defense forced a three-and-out, the Black-and-Gold offense needed seven plays to return to paydirt with Copeland hitting Stovall in a short out rout that the senior turned into a 16-yard scoring dash with 2:05 on the opening half clock.
The potent pair hooked up again 56 seconds later on an 11-yard score after junior D.J. King stripped the ball on a second consecutive sack of the ’Cane quarterback. Stanley pulled in the loose pigskin to give the Bear offense another chance with a little over a minute to go before the half.
On the first possession after the intermission, East Hamilton picked up a couple of first downs before being forced to punt.
Taking over on their own 17, the Bear coaches called Houston’s number right out of the gate and the senior sprinter broke free around left end, taking the ball 83 yards “to the house” for the game’s final score.
While the Bear defense had several flashes of dominance, and gave up just the lone touchdown on the Hurricanes initial possession, a familiar problem continued to plague them.
“Defensively, we are still having trouble stopping the run,” commented coach Floyd. “We are good against the pass, so if we get ahead early and force teams to have to pass, we’re O.K.”
The Hurricanes gained 185 yards on the ground, but got just 109 yards on 14 pass completions.
The Bears sacked the East Hamilton QB three times (Trevino and King each had one, plus combined on another), plus senior Akeem Humphrey picked off a pair of interceptions.
“East Hamilton has moved the ball well every game this season,” Floyd remarked.
Junior tailback Logan Jackson was the workhorse for the ’Canes, carrying the ball 19 times for 126 yards. He also caught a pair of passes, but was held to just 8 yards on those receptions.
Bradley will get two weeks to prepare for its next opponent — ninth-ranked Blackman. The Blaze whipped state champion Signal Mountain 72-35 Friday night to snap coach Bill Price’s top-ranked (4A) Eagles’ 17-game winning streak.
I’Tavius Mathers, who is heading to Ole Miss next fall, rushed for 319 yards and three scores, plus the Blaze defense picked off three interceptions in the fourth quarter, turning two of them into “Pick 6s.”
The Bears will make the journey to Murfreesboro to face the 3-1 Blaze on Sept. 23 in their final non-district game of the season. “There’s no doubt they will be a very tough test for us,” Floyd assessed.