When you hand them a pair of turnovers in your own territory in your first five offensive plays, you’re in for a trip to the “wood shed.”
That’s what happened at the foot of Signal Mountain Friday night as two-time defending state runnerup Baylor cashed in on those turnovers for a quick 14-0 lead on its way to a 34-13 whipping of Bradley Central.
“If we don’t play any better than that, we’re not going to beat anybody,” declared head coach Damon Floyd after his Bears turned the ball over four times and had 11 penalties for 128 yards. “You can’t give any team that many extra chances, especially one as good as they (Baylor) are.”
Now 1-1 on the season, the Bears must regroup quickly and prepare for this week’s District 5-AAA opener in Soddy-Daisy.
After also getting thumped 44-7 by Baylor in their season opener, the Trojans bounced back with a 32-27 win over Red Bank.
Friday’s game on “Red” Etter Field actually started great for Bradley as on the fourth play of the game, Bear linebacker Jordan Timmons nailed a Red Raider receiver just after he caught a pass and forced the ball loose, which was recovered by Tennessee commitment Austin Sanders at the Bradley 44.
However after Logan Fetzner, who gained 288 all-purpose yards in the season opening victory the previous week, was nailed for a five-yard loss on the first Bear play from scrimmage and quarterback Bryce Copeland was stopped for just a yard gain on the second, Raider linebacker Russell Burton picked off a third down pass attempt and returned it 22 yards to the Bear 45.
Seven plays later, speedster George Porter, who had 192 yards in the Baylor opener and went for 172 Friday, scooted in for a three-yard touchdown run to give the home team its first score with 6:38 on the first quarter clock.
Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Bradley coughed up the pigskin again, this time on a fumble after a pass reception and the Red Raiders were just 27 yards from pay dirt.
Although Canadian transfer quarterback Michael O’Conner gain 17 yards on the first play, it took Baylor five more plays to get the ball into the end zone with fullback Houston Clements bulling in from a half-inch out with 3:05 on the clock.
After a three-and-out on their next possession, the Bradley offense was able to move the ball in the second quarter, with a nine-play drive that ended in a 28-yard field goal attempt that had plenty of leg, but went wide right and then an eight-play drive that ended at the Baylor 10 with another interception.
The Red Raiders had just one scoring drive in the second frame, covering 50 yards on eight plays and ending with the first of four Rafael Gaglianone field goals on the night, this one the longest from 45 yards out for a 17-0 halftime advantage.
Like the opening of the game, the second half got off to a rocky start for the Bears as well as with a holding penalty and a Baylor tackle for loss putting their backs against the wall before Copeland slipped in the end zone while going back to pass on the fourth play. “That play was typical of how our night went,” Floyd said of the safety. “Bryce was trying to get away from pressure and he just slipped down.”
Returning the resulting free kick to near midfield, Baylor once again drove inside the Bear 10, but had to settle for a Gaglianone 25-yard field goal.
Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, Bradley once again gave the hosts a short field putting the ball on the turf for the third time in the contest. Despite getting the ball on the Bear 6, Baylor once again had to turn to Gaglianone for a 19-yard kick as the Bradley defense held tight.
“Our defense actually played pretty well, forcing them to kick field goals instead of getting touchdowns four times,” commented Floyd.
Down 25-0 late in the third quarter, the Bear offense finally got something going when they needed just two plays to cover 80 yards for their first score of the evening. Copeland hit junior Dee Crisp for a 29-yard gain on the first play and then found his favorite target Cal Pickel on a 51-yard scoring strike down the left sideline with 2:46 to go in the third quarter.
Baylor answered with a 10-play drive that included a successful fake punt and resulted in Gaglianone’s final field goal of the evening, a 37-yarder, but it wasn’t the final time he split the uprights as he did so on the ensuing kickoff with plenty of distance to spare.
The Red Raiders added their final score in the fourth quarter with a 10-play ground attack with Rogers scampering in from seven yards out with 4:07 on the clock. Gaglianone actually missed the extra point by drilling the left goal post.
After the Baylor kicker found the end zone for his eighth touchback of the night, Bradley put together an 11-play scoring series with Copeland completing 5-of-9 passes for 72 yards before sweeping in for the final eight for the score with 69 ticks left on the clock.
For the game, Copeland went 23-of-37 for 223 yards, plus he carried the ball 18 times for a net gain of 61 yards, after being sacked four times for minus 30 yards.
Pickel pulled in eight passes for 113 yards, including the touchdown bomb.
After his big game to open the season, the Red Raiders keyed on Fetzner and he had a minus 11 yards on just four carries, plus a 17-yard reception before suffering an ankle injury early in the second quarter.
Bradley did get some good news Thursday as junior defensive end Eduardo Trevino was cleared to continue to play and was in on several big hits Friday. His injured finger is healing well on its own and will not require surgery at this time. He would have missed up to six weeks had surgery been required.
“I’ll take the blame for this one,” remarked Floyd. “I obviously didn’t have us prepared. This was the worst offensive game we’ve had since I’ve been here. It was ugly.”
“The game was sloppy when it came to penalties as they (Baylor) had (9) almost as many as we did,” he added. “We are going to have to get better real quick because we start district play next Friday.”