“I think the wet field hurt us more than it did them,” Bear head coach Damon Floyd stated after the 34-14 final. “He (Mathers) has such good balance and runs so well, it didn’t seem to bother him.”
“We couldn’t tackle him. I don’t know if we two-hand touched him. He’s the real deal,” he added about the career-best 336 yards on 31 carries for Mathers, who has committed to play for Ole Miss.
Mathers, who had 322 yards against Oakland last season, now has 1,436 yards on 142 carries so far this season. He scored four 1-yard touchdowns Friday to up his season mark to 15 scores.
The victory was the third straight for the 5-1 Blaze over a state-ranked opponent, while Bradley is now 1-2 against fellow Top 10 teams. Now 3-2 on the season, the Bears other loss came to top-ranked (Division II) Baylor.
With its non-league schedule wrapped up, Bradley will now turn its attention to five straight District 5-AAA battles.
“We want to get on the level these good teams (Blackman, Baylor) are on. That’s why we are playing them,” Floyd remarked. “We are still in good position with where we need to be with one district win (over Soddy-Daisy) and the others yet to play.”
The Bears will play their third straight road game Friday night as they journey across the river to Evensville to face Doug Greene’s Rhea County squad. The Eagles (0-6, 0-2) have yet to win a game this season, having been outscored 189-85.
Having two weeks to prepare for Blackman didn’t help too much as Mathers took the ball on the first play from scrimmage and danced his way 65 yards to paydirt. The Bears got brief reprieve when a flag came out for a block in the back 15 yards behind the speedster.
After giving the ball to fullback Antonio Allen on the next play to let Mathers catch his breath, the 6-foot, 200-pounder dashed 37 yards on the following snap only to be brought down at the 1. Two plays later he was in the end zone. with just 74 seconds gone off the clock.
Mathers closed out the next two Blackman drives with 1-yard plunges, before Allen did the honors on the fourth possession from five yards out.
After just one first down in its first two offensive series, Bradley was able to move the ball on its third thry, going from its own 20 to the Blaze 32 before four straight incomplete passes stalled the drive.
Down 28-0, the Bears got on the board late in the second quarter after senior Justin Houston returned a kickoff 42 yards and then four plays later hauled a pass from junior Bryce Copeland for a 36-yard TD strike with 2:19 on the clock.
Getting the ball to open the second half, the Bear offense looked more like its old self with Copeland hitting junior tight end Caleb Cain across the middle for 39 yards on the first play.
Bradley marched into the Blaze Red Zone, but then shot itself in the foot with a pair of bad snaps, a runner caught behind the line and an interception.
The Bear defense rose to the occasion, forcing a punt from midfield, but for the second time in as many series, Blaze punter Jacob Irvine pinned them inside the 10 yard line.
Undaunted, Copeland went back to work, completing 6-of-7 passes and getting a 17-yard run from senior Rue Goldston to set up one of the top plays of the year.
With a first down at the Blaze 26, Copeland tried to hit a streaking Houston down the right sideline, but the Blackman defender had position as the ball closed in. The defender grabbed the ball first, but in midair, Houston took it out of his hands, spun around and landed on his feet before racing in the final few yards for the touchdown.
Sophomore Clayton Steels booted through is second extra point of the night with just 5.7 seconds on the third quarter clock.
However, the joy of the highlight was short lived as Mathers went back to work, slicing and dicing on seven of the following 10 plays and capped off the drive with his fourth score of the night.
Bradley did get another highlight moment on the extra point as senior Patrick Benson burst through the line to block the kick.
The Bears finished with a very respectable 298 yards of offense as Copeland completed 18-of-32 passes for 234 yards, while Houston had 218 all-purpose yards — 96 on five kick returns, 93 on four pass receptions and 29 on a half dozen rushes.
Cain finished with 49 yards on a pair of catches, while senior James Stovall gained 48 yards on four receptions. Sophomore Cal Pickel pulled in eight passes for 44 yards.
Blackman put up 462 yards of offense, including 207 coming on 30 first-down plays. Completing just 3-of-9 passes, the Blaze rushed the ball 52 times for 442 yards.
Mathers performance marked the first time in Bradley history that an opposing runner has gained more than 300 yards. The top performance in recent history was 254 yards by Gerald Riggs as eventual state-champion Red Bank defeated the Bears in the third round of the 2000 TSSAA playoffs.
Black-and-Gold fans still talk about the Bradley school record of Blake Morris, which was set that same year against Seiver County. Morris gained 380 yards on 24 carries and scored five TDs in the 68-33 victory.
Coach Bill Price’s dominating ground game had 695 rushing yards and were just 1-of-3 passing for 15 yards and an interception in the Oct. 6, 2000 contest at Bear Stadium. Travis Ogle gained 135 yards and scored three times in the game, while Lynn Bafford and Al Morris had 75 and 73 rushing yards respectively.
Bradley Central 0 7 7 0 — 14
Blackman 14 14 0 6 — 34
BL — I’tavius Mathers 1 run (Jacob Irvine kick), 10:46
BL — Mathers 1 run (Irvine kick), 2:50
BL — Mathers 1 run (Irvine kick), 11:27
BL — Antonio Allen 5 (Irvine kick), 3:43
BC — Justin Houston from Bryce Copeland 36 pass (Clayton Steels kick), 2:19
BC — Houston from Copeland 26 pass (Steels kick), :05
BL — Mathers 1 run (Patrick Benson blocked kick), 6:23
First downs 15 22
Rushes-Yards 23-64 52-442
Passing 234 20
Total Yards 298 462
Comp-Att-Int 18-32-1 3-9-0
Punts-Avg. 3-36.3 2-40.5
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 6-40 3-45
Rushing: Justin Houston 6-29, Rue Goldston 1-17, Logan Fetzner 6-12, Bryce Copeland 8-10, James Stovall 1-3 (BC); I’tavius Mathers 31-336, Antonio Allen 11-43, Cole Notgrass 6-37, Tyler Sells 1-5, Maichale Nelson 1-5, Wesley Eke 1-5, Jonathan McCary 2- -11, (BL).
Passing: Bryce Copeland 18-32-1 234 2 TDs (BC); Tyler Strickland 3-9-0 20 (BL).
Receiving: Justin Houston 4-93 2 TDs, James Stovall 4-48, Cal Pickel 8-44, Caleb Cain 2-49 (BC); Thahal May 1-11, Austin Bishop-Pryor 1-8, Mathers 1-1 (BL).
Records: Bradley Central 3-2; Blackman 5-1.