McMinn County High School comes into the contest with an overall record of 5-1, 3-0 in the district, and is coming off a 39-8 victory of another local squad, Walker Valley.
Cleveland (4-2, 2-0) will have its hand full will a two-headed running attack, a powerhouse pass rush and dominate lines on both sides of the ball.
The Raiders got off to 0-2 start to some heavy hitters (Maryville and Knoxville Catholic) early in the season, but lately the team has notched four straight victories, and looks to start their “October season” off the same way they commanded September.
“We did as good as we could in September. We competed well in every game, and were fortunate enough to win every game. Now, we start this last phase with the first of four very, very important games. It all starts Friday night with the defending district champs, and the preseason favorite,” stated Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford.
That could be a tall order for the Raiders as McMinn’s explosive running back combination of junior Dre Sanders and senior Kelvin Wells Jr. have lit up the field this season.
Last week the pair combined for a whopping 191 yards and four scores on just seven carries.
“Our first order of business is just tackling them (Sanders and Wells). We have to be able to tackle them in space, because they are most likely going to get in space,” explained Crawford.
Both runners give McMinn the benefit of different looks. Wells is more of an allusive runner that makes getting a solid tackle tough. Sanders on the other hand is a downhill runner with a pension of shrugging off hits.
McMinn’s offensive attack is only aided by a quality line on both sides of the ball, but the line of scrimmage exchanges should prove to be a good test for a young Raider line that has seen marked importment recently.
“The second thing we have to watch is can we match the physicality of their offensive and defensive lines? We’ve struggled up front on both sides of the ball. There are no secrets there. But, we feel like we’ve gotten better in that area. It will provide us a good measuring stick on how far we’ve come,” said Crawford.
Luckily for Cleveland, the Raiders are coming off a bye week that has allowed the team to sure up a few trouble areas and heal their dents and dings.
“The kids understood what we were looking for during the off week. They understood it was an opportunity for us to go back a little bit and get better. It was an opportunity for us to work on some little things that we feel like need improved upon. Those guys that came out and maximized that really got something out of it. The truth of what we did will be how we play Friday night though,” Crawford said.
Those who come out to Benny Monroe Stadium Friday night will get to witness what promises to be an explosive squads that have yet to loose a district game. All the action kicks off at 7:30.