ESPN has officially announced that the high school grudge match will be broadcast live nationally on its ESPNU network.
“I think everyone is really excited about this. In my 33 years at Bradley we have never had a game on ESPN,” said Bradley Central athletic director Turner Jackson.
“Anytime national television is involved, it’s going to drive the excitement way up. This is already a big community event,” added Cleveland AD Mike Collier.
This year’s crosstown classic will feature a 10th-ranked (Class 6A) Bear team looking to prove itself as a legitimate state contender against a Blue Raider squad that is still looking to crystallize what was supposed to be a standout year for the program.
On the heels of star quarterback Chad Voytik grabbing headlines for his stellar offseason, expectations were extremely high for Cleveland’s gridiron season, but a trio of losses to start the campaign was a hard body blow to the storied program.
Committing to play for the University of Pittsburgh just before the season, Voytik competed in ESPN’s Elite 11 quarterback camp at Pepperdine University in California. He came away from the weeklong experience, which was taped for a two-hour ESPN special, ranked fifth among the program’s 24 standout participants.
After the slow start to the season, the Blue Raiders fought back with three straight wins, including showing flashes of brilliance in a 41-6 upset of previously unbeaten and state-ranked Red Bank.
Cleveland was knocked back to the ropes with a 35-20 defeat at District 5-AAA co-leader McMinn County, but clawed back to .500 on the season with an impressive 44-20 win over Soddy-Daisy Friday night.
Bradley Central, on the other hand, has been ranked in every AP poll this season, getting as high as sixth before losses to defending state runner-up Baylor and state-ranked Blackman pushed them down to their current 10th spot.
Now 6-2 on the season and tied with McMinn County at 4-0 in 5-AAA play, the Bears will be looking for a win over Cleveland to solidify their shot at a district championship when they square off against the Cherokees Oct. 28.
Both teams are still in the thick of a TSSAA playoff chase. A win Friday night would be huge for either program and could mean a lot more than local bragging rights.
“I don’t know how people could get more charged up for this game. This game is going to be huge regardless of the television coverage,” Jackson stated.
In previous years Cleveland has dominated the intracounty rivalry, taking nine of the last 10 meetings between the teams.
Both programs are coming off of huge wins. The Bears subjected county rival Walker Valley to a 42-0 thrashing, and Cleveland kept its playoff hopes alive by thumping Soddy-Daisy.
Bradley coach Damon Floyd said the coaches and players were required to fill out two-to-three pages of information sheets and have new headshots taken for the broadcast.
The Bears got a little taste of screen time this season as a local cable network picked up their game against Ooltewah, but nothing compared to the Raiders.
Cleveland football has been thick in the middle of the Versus Network’s reality TV series revolving around their star quarterback all season long.
“I think our guys don’t even notice the cameras much anymore,” said Cleveland head coach E.K. Slaughter. “I think it’s going to help us. We aren’t playing to the cameras, we are playing to our teammates.”
Originally, the game was slated for a Thursday night slot to work around both schools’ fall break schedule, but was moved to Friday with a rare 8 p.m. start to accommodate the national telecast.
Both programs are expecting the turnout and the intensity to be way up for a game that promises to not soon be forgotten.
Cleveland-Bradley game tickets will be available beginning today at Cooke’s Food Store, Gobble Automotive and Town Squire. Tickets at these locations will be available Monday through Friday during business hours.
At $6 apiece, tickets are also available at both schools’ main offices, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We highly recommend buying your ticket prior to the event. There will be long lines to get into the game, so save yourself the time and get your ticket early,” said Cleveland sports information director Julie Phillips.
Banner Sports Writer Joe Cannon contributed to this story.