It wasn’t just the Cavaliers the Raiders had to battle though; a number of half-healed injuries, a raucous Cookeville crowd, a two-hour bus ride and an 8:30 p.m. start were all working against Cleveland in addition to their opposing players.
By the time the final whistle sounded all those hurdles proved too much for Cleveland to overcome, falling to Cookeville 3-1 and forcing the Raiders to look ahead to next season.
“I got to hand it to Cookeville. They obviously worked very hard and are a great team. But, I’m just proud of the way my guys battled. We’ve been bit by the injury bug and had guys step up big and help us. We left it all out there on the field tonight,” stated Brose.
One thing was evident when play began. Cookeville wanted a goal and they wanted one badly. Cleveland on the other hand appeared to be seemingly at a loss against the starting Cavalier onslaught.
Six minutes into the game, an impressive Cookeville cross went right across the face of goal, and a Cavalier striker was all to happy to put it in the back of the visitors’ net. The goal galvanized a quickly growing home audience.
Brose decided to go to the bench in an attempt to spark some life back into a Cleveland team that looked shocked and awed at the turn of events.
The Raider bench responded big. In the ninth minute of play Eric Ingraham volleyed a deflection to Zach Near, who in turn beat the keeper to bring Cleveland level at 1-1.
Sterling Hines almost put Cleveland ahead in the 18th when he broke free for a shot on goal that forced Cookeville’s goalkeeper into a diving save.
As the game progressed both teams continued to battle hard, and as the clock wore on things began to get more and more heated. The physical play led to the home squad drawing the game’s first card in the 21st for a hard dive tackle.
“We knew coming in that these guys were a fast physical team, and they have a great home crowd that only adds to that intensity,” explained Brose.
Cookeville struck one last time in the first half when a “loft and launch” shot took off from around midfield and ended its flight inside Cleveland’s goal, putting the Cavs back on top by 2-1.
Things went from bad to worse for the Raiders in the closing seconds of the half when goalkeeper Pierson Bunch and defensive leader Hines collided hard in Cleveland’s box. Bunch was able to retake his place between the bars, but Hines had to be helped off the field with a knee injury.
It was much of the same in the second half. Cookeville controlled large portions of possession and continued to bring offensive pressure while the defense kept Cleveland off guard and away from the goal.
The Raiders took another blow in the final 10 minutes when the team was brought down to 10 men by a red card, forcing them to finish the game shorthanded.
Cookeville capitalized on the free kick opportunity from the aforementioned foul, putting a header in goal to go up by the final tally of 3-1.
“Our bench came up big to give us some extra energy. Things just didn’t go our way tonight. We just had a hard time fighting back to get the equalizer, and once it went 3-1 things only got tougher,” Brose said.
Cleveland finishes its season at 8-11-1 with a second place finish in District 5-AAA play, but according to Brose there is a lot more to the 2012 season than the team’s record lets on.
“The season was a little bit of a mixed bag. We played some really tough stretches. If someone just looked at our record they wouldn’t see who we are. I think to be the best you have to play the best and we certainly do that year in and year out,” he finished.