After watching the visitors put up 30 points in the first half, Cleveland was able to spring to life in the second half, coming within one touchdown of tying things up in the final 73 seconds Friday evening in their 50th home opener.
“I’m proud of the way we fought back ... because we ended up showing some pride and character in the second half, but in the end it was still a loss,” Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford stated. “We’re going to right this ship. We’re going to coach them better. We’re going to coach them harder. We are going to build off of this and improve.”
The Raiders were able to start out the game and march down the field to the Cavaliers’ 5-yard line in six plays, but a fumble in the end zone put the brakes on the home team.
Cookeville took advantage of the costly turnover and four plays later, saw QB Matt Collins launch a 42-yard touchdown pass to Zack Poston. The Cavaliers tacked on a 2-point conversion as Collins ran it in.
Cleveland once again took off down the field but, after a 12-play drive that included three first downs, was only able to get some points on the board thanks to a 37-yard field goal off of the foot of Brandon Romero.
The Cavaliers were able to reach the Raiders’ 39-yard line by the end of the first quarter, and then an almost unstoppable Vic Johnson was able to run the ball in 36 yards on the second play of the second quarter for what was his first of three touchdowns of the night.
The touchdown was followed up with another 2-point run, which gave the region opponent a 16-3 lead.
After making it down to the Cavs’ 25-yard line, the Raiders turned the ball over following an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-10 play.
In a little over three minutes, a combination of carries by Johnson, Collins and Gabe Angel got the Cavaliers in place for Johnson to make a 1-yard tumble into the end zone with 4:08 remaining in the half.
Johnson once again reached the paydirt to wrap up the visitor’s scoring, this time with 1:18 remaining on a 14-yard run.
Trailing 30-3 at halftime, Cleveland was able to rally the troops and dominate Cookeville in the second half.
“We played better in the second half on both sides of the ball, and that’s why we were able to fight to get back in it,” Crawford explained.
The Raiders were able to find an answer for the machine-like Johnson and forced the Cavaliers to punt the ball after four short plays.
TJ Parker, who led Cleveland with a total of 101 yards in 21 carries, focused on moving the ball down the field on foot, while QB Austin Massey was able to air the ball out to Jay McIntire and Jacob Gibson to get the home team in scoring position once again.
Unlike the first half with its missed scoring opportunities, at 6:03 in the third quarter, Parker was able to carry the ball in from eight yards out for the Raiders’ first touchdown of the season.
Cleveland’s confidence carried over into the final quarter, where they once again held Cookeville back.
A fumble by Johnson in the opening play of the fourth quarter was recovered by the Blue Raiders at their own 28-yard line.
While Cleveland was unable to capitalize on the fumble recovery, a possession later, they were able to get another touchdown.
Massey fired off a 27-yard pass to a leaping Rod Dennard and then, on the next play, sent Dennard into the end zone with a 36-yard pass.
An onside kick gave the ball right back to the Raiders, who with efforts by Massey, Eric Goodwin and Gibson, were once again within scoring position.
Massey plowed through Cookeville’s obtrusive defensive line to deliver the ball one yard for Cleveland’s final touchdown of the evening.
After a failed second onside kick attempt, the Cavs were able to run out the clock.
Despite the late rally by the Raiders, earlier missed opportunities proved costly.
“We were down here three other times in scoring position and came up with no points, and that ended up being the difference in the game,” Crawford said. “You saw in the first half that they (Cookeville) were just mashing us around in there. We’ve got little guys, and we’ve got to start making sure that we utilize our quickness to our advantage and get better in our technique.”
Massey was able to complete 29-of-43 passes for a total of 360 yards.
“I thought that all of our receivers really atoned for themselves. They did some great things in our passing game, and Austin Massey did a great job. Our offense really bounced back from last week and really fought x
The next chance for the Raiders to get their season back on track comes on Friday, when McMinn County travels to Benny Monroe Stadium to open the District 5-AAA race.
The Cherokees are also 0-2, after an opening loss to McMinn Central and a 49-6 pummeling by McCallie Friday night.
Cookeville 8 22 0 0 — 30
Cleveland 3 0 6 14 — 23
CV — Zack Poston 42-yd pass from Matt Collins (Collins run), 7:14
CHS — Brandon Romero 37-yd FG
CV — Vic Johnson 36-yd run (Gabe Angel run), 11:21
CV — Johnson 1-yd run (Spencer Wright kick), 4:08
CV — Johnson 14-yd run (Wright kick), 1:18
CHS — TJ Parker 8-yd run (run failed), 6:03
CHS — Rod Dennard 36-yd pass from Austin Massey (Romero kick), 2:31
CHS — Massey 1-yd run (Romero kick), 1:13
First downs 12 24
Rushes-yards 33-341 31-112
Passing yards 42 360
Total yards 383 472
Comp-Att-Int 1-2-0 29-43-0
Punts -Ave. 3-40 2-34
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-1
Penalties 7-65 4-30
Rushing: Vic Johnson 24-267, Matt Collins 7-39, Gabe Angel 5-26, Devonte Sterling 2-17 (CV); TJ Parker 21-101, Tyrese Branch 1-5, Austin Massey 9-1 (CHS).
Passing: Collins 1-2-0 43 yards (CV); Massey 29-43-0 360 yards (CHS).
Receiving Zack Poston 1-43 (CV); Eric Goodwin 6-83, Jacob Gibson 6-74, Rod Dennard 2-63, TJ Parker 2-41, Jay McIntire 3-39, Robert Anderson 1-22, Skylar Davis 2-14 (CHS).
Records: Cookeville 2-0; Cleveland 0-2.