After a brutal start to their season, the Cleveland Blue Raiders have been hard at work with the hopes of seeing a vast improvement this Friday when the Cookeville Cavaliers come to town.
“Hopefully we won’t look the same as we did last week,” Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford remarked. “This is a totally different football team than McCallie. Cookeville is much better than last year and their head coach is probably one of the most underrated coaches in the state of Tennessee.”
Entering their second year under the direction of head coach Jimmy Maynord, the Cavaliers got their season off to a start with a 44-0 win over Monterey High School.
Despite the outcome of Cookeville’s first game, Coach Crawford is not putting any stock in the final score.
“We played a Division II power, and they played Monterey, a Class A program. I don’t know if you can compare scores in modern day football,” Crawford said of his team’s season-opening loss, which also had a 44-0 final score.
Last season the Raiders defeated the Cavaliers 36-17, but this season could prove to be more of a challenge.
The Cavaliers had 217 yards on the ground, but only 59 yards by air last Friday night.
Cookeville’s offense has definitely been ramped up this season with the addition of junior running backs Gabe Angel (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and Vic Johnson (6-5, 205), who both transferred from Wilson Central.
Against Monterey, Johnson rushed for 105 yards in five attempts and Angel had a 21-yard run as well as a 23-yard reception.
Add in the fact that the majority of the Cavaliers’ 100 players are returning from last year, and the Cookeville team begins to look more threatening.
“Speed is closer than a year ago. Overall, with all 11 on the field we’re quicker, but they’ve got (Gabe) Angel who transferred to them from Wilson Central and has supposedly gotten several D-I offers. They’ve also got a 6-foot, 205-pound running back ... who has some good speed and their tight end (Jacob Edgington) is 6-6 and 255 pounds. They are a much-improved football team,” Crawford explained.
The Raiders are still without five starters, but will at least have running back TJ Parker back in action for them Friday evening after losing him halfway through the McCallie game.
Size will once again play a factor in Friday’s regional matchup, with the Cavaliers rolling in with the advantage.
“We’re undersized, without a doubt,” Coach Crawford stated. “On Cookeville’s offensive line, their smallest guy is 6-1 and 240 pounds — that’ll be our biggest guy out there. We’re fighting the size battle again. We’ve got to be able to move our guys and create some disruption in their blocking schemes in order to slow them down.”
The visitors’ offensive line is bolstered by senior Adam Haney, whose 6-5, 300-pound frame will be hard to miss Friday night.
Cleveland is looking to shake off the unfortunate events that held it scoreless in Week 0 during this Week 1 battle.
“We couldn’t knock (McCallie) off the ball or create any running lanes — our backs fought hard, but it just wasn’t anything there,” Crawford explained. “Passing game wise, if you go back and look at it, there were some good balls that were dropped. You can equate that to young guys playing their first time against a really good football team.”
Against the Blue Tornado, the Raiders only came up with 22 yards rushing and 104 passing.
“Assignment wise defensively, we were sound, much more sound than in 2013. Yet, we got them balled up twice in our arms and they break long runs,” the coach continued.
“I think the positive is that defensively we were assignment sound. Now we’ve got to be able to tackle better and create some turnovers. Offensively, we’ve got to catch the ball when it’s thrown to us — we can’t have those drops and turnovers.”
Cleveland’s home opener is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.