TSSAA playoff implications.
Local bragging rights.
You name it, Friday night’s annual “Crosstown Clash” at Benny Monroe Stadium has all that and more on the line as Bradley Central and Cleveland High meet on the gridiron for the 39th time.
“It’s going to be exciting. A great atmosphere, with big implications for both the district and playoffs,” proclaimed BCHS head coach Damon Floyd, who never got to play in one while a Bear running back/defensive back in the mid-1990s, but has directed the Black-and-Gold in the last seven meetings, winning three of the previous four.
“We don’t have to say much to the players about the game. They know who we’re playing this week,” expressed Blue Raider head coach Ron Crawford, who got his first taste of the local rivalry in last year’s 16-14 battle at Bear Stadium.
“This is a great rivalry and the history of it means a lot to the alumni, but we can’t pay back for last year’s game (a loss). This is a different team,” the veteran coach remarked. “What happened in past games has no bearing on Friday night. This is the 2013 Raiders against the 2013 Bears. It will be a heck of a game.”
With both teams coming off heartbreaking district road losses last Friday, the coaches stressed the importance of their teams being focused on the present instead of the past.
“We can’t let the Ooltewah game (a 28-26 loss), or any other win or loss, affect our work ethic or character,” declared coach Floyd. “We’ve got to work hard either way. We can’t afford to make mistakes. We have to stay focused on every play.”
“Turnovers and mistakes are magnified in games like this,” coach Crawford commented. “They (Bradley) were more poised than we were last year, and made the plays necessary to win. We had the same situation last week (a 21-20 defeat at East Hamilton). We have got to play with poise and give a great effort.”
As of Friday’s game, both teams will have faced a trio of state-ranked opponents.
The Raiders are 4-3 overall with all of their losses coming to ranked squads — McCallie (No. 9 in Division II), Knox West (No. 2 in 5A) and East Hamilton (No. 4 in 5A).
The Bears are 4-2, having defeated then fifth-ranked (4A) Signal Mountain and falling to No. 3 (5A) Ooltewah. Ranked ninth in this week’s Associated Press Class 5A poll, Cleveland will be Bradley’s third straight opponent in the state’s Top 10.
The Raiders are 2-1 in district play, along with East Hamilton (5-1, 2-1), while the Bears are 1-1, along with McMinn County (2-4, 1-1). Ooltewah leads 5-AAA at 6-1 overall and 3-0 in district play.
“We knew the last five games (Knox West, East Hamilton, Bradley, Walker Valley and Ooltewah) on our schedule were going to be unbelievably tough,” related coach Crawford. “They are all games that will be super-competitive and we could win or lose.”
“We can’t afford to look or plan for the playoffs yet,” he added. “We learned our lesson last year (after falling to an 1-8 Rhea County team in the season finale, costing them a spot in the postseason) that every game is important. Rankings don’t mean anything. Wins do.”
“We can’t get caught up in what this game means in the district or for the playoffs,” echoed coach Floyd. “Last week doesn’t matter. Next week doesn’t matter. Friday night is what matters.”
With both teams featuring senior quarterbacks leading offenses that average 30 or more points per game, and defenses that are giving up better than 23 an outing, Friday’s clash is expected to be an offensive explosion.
The Raiders have put up 2,862 yards of offense (408.9 average per game) so far this season and scored 249 points (35.5 ppg), while the Bears are averaging 30 points (180) and 318.3 yards (1,910) in their half dozen outings.
With the spotlight shining brightly on both quarterbacks, Cleveland’s Austin Herink will make his second “Clash” start, while Bradley’s Brett Standifer will make his first.
Herink has completed 62.5 percent (135-of-216) of his passes for 1,809 yards (13.4 yards average per completion), including 16 touchdowns, but has also been picked off eight times. The senior southpaw also found the end zone eight times while gaining 109 yards on 35 carries in the first half dozen games.
Standifer has connected on 85-of-144 aerials (59 percent) for 1,254 yards (14.8 ypc) and has a 15-4 touchdown to interceptions ratio. The three-year starter at Soddy-Daisy before this season also leads the Bear rushing attack with 323 yards on 92 carries, a half dozen of which have found paydirt.
With the ball in the air so much between the two squads it’s no surprise the game will also feature the top six receivers in the Southeast Tennessee corner.
Cleveland senior DJ Jones leads the list with 40 receptions for 619 yards (15.5 ypc) and 11 touchdowns. The speedster has also scored four times on just eight rushes for eight yards, plus returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown against Cookeville to lead the area with 96 points so far this season.
The Raiders also feature Tyler Davis (26-507, 19.5 ypc, 4 TDs), Parker Smith (29-297, 10.2 ypc, 2 TDs) and Eric Goodwin (26-269, 10.3 ypc, 1 TD), who are ranked third, fifth and sixth respectively in the county.
Bradley will counter with seniors Dee Crisp, who left last week’s game with a knee injury but is expected to be ready for Friday, and Cal Pickel.
Crisp is second in the local list, having pulled in 28 catches for 508 yards (18.1 ypc) and eight scores. The 6-foot-3 high jumper also has a pair of interceptions to his credit, one he returned for a “Pick 6.”
Pickel has averaged 14.9 ypc with 388 yards on 26 receptions with four finding the end zone. Bradley has three other receivers who have surpassed the century mark this season — junior Daniel Clark (10-173, 1 TD), sophomore Tyler Carpenter (5-109, 21.8 ypc, 1 TD) and senior Baylor Terrell (11-101, 1 TD).
After struggling on the ground early in the season, Cleveland has improved its running attack with the second and third top runners in the area.
Junior TJ Parker is a double threat with 575 rushing yards on 88 carries (6.5 ypc), plus pulling in 13 passes for another 184 yards. After missing a couple of games, junior Raekwon Bunion returned to the lineup last week and has posted 325 yards on 57 carries for a 5.7 ypc average.
With as many offensive weapons as the two teams feature, the difference in the game may come down to the other side of the ball. “We are going to have to get some stops,” declared coach Floyd. “We know they are going to score, but we have to limit how much and come up with some big stops to give our offense opportunities.”
The Bear defense has been bolstered with the return of senior linebacker Eduardo Trevino, who has been in on 52 tackles, including 21 solos, in his three games back in the lineup.
Fellow senior linebacker Jordan Timmons still leads the area with 75 total hits (24 solos), including eight tackles for loss and a trio of takeaways. Terrell has made 52 tackles from his safety position, including 3 1/2 for loss, while defensive end Dalton Cooley leads the Bears with a half dozen sacks and 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage among his 45 total hits. Linebacker DJ Moyse has been in on 44 tackles, with 5 1/2 for loss, while defensive back Daniel Clark has made 32 total hits.
Cleveland’s defense is led by linebackers Jonathan Terrero and Darius Pillow with 61 and 51 hits respectively in their first six games (defensive stats from the East Hamilton game were not available by press time). Pillow has five tackles for loss and a trio of sacks, while the pair have combined for five takeaways.
The Raiders will welcome the return of linebacker Austin Massey and lineman John Simpson, who have missed time due to injuries.
For the first time both schools have been out of classes on “fall break” this week, which hasn’t allowed the students the usual pregame hype, but plenty of excitement is expected to fill Benny Monroe Stadium Friday evening as the old archrivals square off once again.