“I loved the first half (298 yards of offense and three touchdowns), but the second half was ugly,” commented Damon Floyd of the 21-6 victory over Polk County to open his ninth season at the Bear helm.
“I’m glad to get the win. I was happy at times, but we need to come out ready to play all four quarters,” he added. “Give Polk credit. Even though we were up 21-0 at the half they fought hard and out played us in the second half.”
The Bears will travel to Murfreesboro Friday to take on Riverdale, a 21-0 winner over Siegel in its opener. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will welcome Chattanooga Central to Benton Friday. The Purple Pounders slipped past Franklin County 16-10 in Harrison to begin the campaign.
After Bradley’s all-time leading rusher and all-state linebacker Blake Morris served as honorary captain for the coin toss and before longtime local radio broadcaster Corky Whitlock was honored at halftime (see story this page), Bradley found the end zone on its first two offensive possession, plus tacked on another score just before the intermission Friday evening.
The jam-packed Bear Stadium home stands rose in unison on the third play from scrimmage when sophomore quarterback Cole Copeland found senior Christian Hamilton over the middle, but Polk senior Ryan Rowland made a TD saving tackle just past midfield to hold it to a 23-yard gain.
Two plays later, Hamilton broke free again, this time on a run, and outran the Wildcat defense for a 41-yard scoring jaunt with exactly three minutes gone off the game clock. Senior Logan Snyder added the first of his extra-point kicks on the evening for a 7-0 edge.
After junior Reno Wimberley got the Polk fans to their feet with a 32-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, the “Boys from Benton” were able to just get one first down before being forced to punt.
Taking over on their own 12 yard line, the Bears lost a yard on their first play, but then Copeland found junior Tyler Carpenter across the middle and he was able to scoot past a pair of Polk defender and carry the mail to the house on an 89-yard scoring play. Snyder’s kick was true again for a 14-0 advantage with four and a half minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
After the next three series ended in punts, the Wildcats took the air out of the Bear Stadium crowd when senior Tristen Senn stepped in front of a Copeland pass and returned the “pick” 40 yards to the Bradley 14.
Bending but no breaking, the Bear defense put the visitors in a fourth-and-1 situation at the 5 yard line and when the snap was muffed, senior defensive lineman Will Robbins pounced on the loose pigskin to quell the threat.
With 5:32 left in the first half, Copeland directed an 11-play, 93-yard scoring drive, carrying the ball over from the 1 himself with 41 ticks on the clock. The sophomore signal caller completed all four of his passes on the march, including a 25-yarder to senior Tanner Cox. Copeland also carried the ball five times himself for 26 yards on the series.
Copeland and the Bears headed into the locker room having completed 8-of-11 passes for 184 yards, plus the team gained 114 yards on 16 rushes (an average of more than seven yards a carry). The Black-and-Gold defense allowed the visitors just 55 yards on 20 offensive plays (2.75 ypc), all on the ground, during the first half.
After the intermission festivities and the band performances, the Big Red Train came back on the field with a full head of steam. Taking the opening kickoff, and being aided by a 15-yard penalty on the hosts, Polk drove to the edge of the Red Zone in eight plays.
After the Bear defense stiffened to force a fourth-and-6 from the 20-yard line, senior Daniel Clark put an end to the threat by picking off a pass just in front of the goal line and returning it to the 12.
Going to the air on four of its first five plays, Bradley crossed midfield when Hamilton broke off an 11-yard run on the sixth play. However, Polk sophomore Seth Sloan got past the blockers and sacked Copeland for an 11-yard loss on the next play to push the ball back over the midfield mark. The Bears then hurt themselves with back-to-back penalties to move the ball back another 20 yards.
After Bradley had to punt the ball away, the Big Red Train pulled out of the station from its own 29 and powered down the line for 13 plays before junior Ben Norwood punched the ball in from the 1 with 6:20 left in the contest.
However, that was as close as the contest would get as the next two series went three-and-out before the Bears ran out the clock on the “Backyard Brawl.” It was Bradley’s fourth win since the team resumed playing each other six years ago and gives them a 26-8-1 lead in the overall series that dates back to 1917.
In his first varsity start, Copeland finished with 68 yards on 13 carries, plus connected on 13-of-18 passes for 221 yards. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder spread the ball around to a half dozen receivers.
“Cole did well with a couple of mistakes,” assessed Coach Floyd. “He shows a lot of ability, but is still learning the game. The interception was our fault. We checked off at the line and they (Polk) picked it up.”
Carpenter collected 103 yards on just a trio of catches, while Hamilton had a near 100-yard night with 67 yards on eight carries, plus he pulled in a pair of passes for 32 more. Clark got his hands on the ball four times for 38 yards.
After gaining nearly 300 yards in the opening half, the Bears finished with 369 yards of total offense.
For the boys in Red, Rowland toted the rock for 47 yards on 14 carries, plus pulled in the only complete Wildcat pass for 18 more. Norwood gained 39 yards on eight second-half rushes, while Wimberley managed 35 yards on eight tries. Sloan bulled for 23 yards on seven carries.
Polk County 0 0 0 6 — 6
Bradley Central 14 7 0 0 — 21
BC — Christian Hamilton 41-yd run (Logan Snyder kick), 9:00
BC — Tyler Carpenter 89-yd pass from Cole Copeland (Snyder kick), 4:29
BC — Copeland 1-yd run (Snyder kick), :41
PC — Ben Norwood 1-yd run (run failed), 6:20
First downs 10 14
Rushes-yards 41-154 26-148
Passing yards 18 221
Total yards 172 369
Comp-Att-Int 1-5-1 13-18-1
Punts -Ave. 4-38.0 2-26.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties 4-25 7-60
Rushing: Ryan Rowland 14-47, Ben Norwood 8-39 TD, Reno Wimberley 8-35, Seth Sloan 7-23, Isaac Smith 4-10 (PC); Cole Copeland 13-68, Christan Hamilton 8-67 TD, DJ Moyse 4-19, Bryan Adams 1- -2 (BC).
Passing: Isaac Smith 1-5-1 18 (PC); Cole Copeland 14-18-1 221 TD (BC).
Receiving: Ryan Rowland 1-18 (PC); Tyler Carpenter 3-103 TD, Daniel Clark 4-38, Christian Hamilton 2-32, Tanner Cox 1-25, Bryan Adams 1-16, Swan Parker 2-11 (BC).
Records: Polk County 0-1; Bradley Central 1-0