CLEVELAND, Tenn. — It was probably a little closer than they’d have liked, but the Blue Raiders held on in the second half and escaped with a narrow victory district foe Ooltewah on Friday at Benny Monroe Stadium.
Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink threw for 212 yards and two scores — a 95-yard second-quarter strike to teammate Tyler Davis — while running back T.J. Parker churned out 83 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
“Our offense was working; we were scoring and making big plays, but it was hard for us to punch it in,” said Davis, who finished with four receptions for 123 yards. “We knew we had to come out and execute in the second half. That was the only way we were going to win.”
Cleveland did a solid job of that in the final two quarters, but Friday’s District 5-AAA showdown still came down to one crucial defensive stop.
“That’s always scary when you have to do that against a team that’s dynamic like them,” Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford said. “In the end we were resilient enough and were able to overcome enough to get the win. We’ve lost our share of these in the last 20 games, so it was nice to win a close one.”
After falling behind 26-7 through 3 1/2 quarters of play, Ooltewah came storming back in the final 13 minutes. Running back Desmond Pittman, whose status was questionable heading into the game, scored his second rushing touchdown late in the third quarter, trimming the Owls’ deficit to 26-14. Just minutes later, quarterback Brody Binder found receiver Edward Hayes in the end zone from 12-yards out, making it a one-score game.
On the ensuing drive, Cleveland put together a productive series, driving the length of the field, but couldn’t cap it with any points as sophomore kicker Oscar Galvan missed his 35-yard attempt wide left.
And once again, the Owls’ offense was on the move; this time with a chance to reclaim the lead. They nearly did, too, making it down inside the 5-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play before a costly false start penalty moved them back five yards.
“We just needed to get one more stop,” Crawford said. “We got good pressure on him and were able to hang on. That’s what we did, we hung on.”
Binder never had a chance on the game’s final snap, either, being flushed from the pocket by Blue Raiders defensive end Kimsey Bell before heaving an errant pass to the end zone which ultimately fell incomplete.
“It wasn’t one person that won this game, it was a team effort,” Herink said. “Ooltewah has a prolific offense with Desmond and Brody, and for us to stop them there was huge. I couldn’t be prouder of my team. Of all my years playing sports this is my favorite team I’ve ever been on.”
With the win, Cleveland (7-3, 5-1) clinched at least a share of the District 5-AAA championship, and the Blue Raiders can secure the league’s top playoff spot with a Bradley Central win over East Hamilton next week.
Binder finished 16-of-21 for 162 yards and a touchdown, while Pittman piled up 89 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for Ooltewah (7-2, 4-1).
Nooga.com's Zack Kirby contributed to this story
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