Clark, Keeping the Tradition Alive
By PATRICK MacCOON
Saylor Clark is having a break out year for the Bears this season. Being the only returning starter at receiver from last year, Clark is ready to take on the responsibility of being the one of the go to guys this year.
Being born with "Black and Gold" in his veins, Clark has extra motivation as well for a region battle that once had to be discontinued for several years due to emotions running a little too high.
"I have wanted to be a Bear ever since I knew what it meant when I was really little," Clark said. "I was a water boy for my uncle's (Chuck Clark) basketball team. It's a huge tradition. The rivalry game with Cleveland is one you always want to win at all costs."
Dylan Standifer has carried over a strong chemistry with the 6-foot-2 surehanded Clark, who reeled in five TDs last season with a crucial one coming in a 27-21 win at home over Cleveland.
Clark has 19 catches for 255 yards (13.4 ypc) with a pair of scores against Walker Valley and Ooltewah.
"The guys ahead of him in the past set the bar high so he would know what to expect," said BCHS head coach Damon Floyd. "Saylor takes every week personally. He is trying to win and is the ultimate competitor. This week against Cleveland he may have a little extra motivation, though."
Once a part of a deep pecking order in the BC wide receiver room, Clark is the current leader by example at the position, even for highly sought-after D1 target Tray Curry to learn from.
No matter what his personal stats may read after one of the biggest games of his life this Friday, victory is all that matters to the true-blood Bradley standout.
"If I have zero catches and we win, that's great," Clark said. "I would take that over having 10 catches and losing any day. I am in this for the team. This is a huge region game."
Bears Fall To Maryville
By JOE CANNON
MARYVILLE — There's a familiar old Wild World of Sports saying that describes "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
That's what fourth-ranked Bradley Central has experienced in the last week, going from an unbelievable 37-35 come-from-behind victory over archrival Cleveland High on Oct. 4 to a humbling 42-7 thrashing by No. 2 Maryville Friday evening.
In a battle pitting two of the three winningest program in state history, the Rebels showed why they have 17-state championship banners hanging in their end zone.
"It's about blocking and tackling," declared Bear head coach Damon Floyd. "We didn't get off our blocks and make tackles and they did.
"It's not about schemes. It's about execution. That's what Maryville does so well. They are so well coached and disciplined on every play.
"Both teams turned the ball over (Bears three times, Rebels twice), but the difference is when they did, they bowed their backs and we couldn't cash in. They scored after two of ours," he explained.
"We've got to put this behind us and concentrate on getting another region win Friday night against William Blount."
Now 5-2 on the season and 3-1 in Region 2-6A play, Bradley will host Blount (2-5, 1-3) for homecoming festivities this week.
"We still control our own destiny for a home playoff game," Coach Floyd related. "Our focus is on that. That starts with William Blount Friday."
While Bradley has a non-region trip to Soddy-Daisy on tap Oct. 25, it could be fighting for the region runner-up spot in the regular season finale at No. 9 McMinn County (7-0, 3-0).
The Cherokees still have to face Cleveland (3-4, 1-2) and Maryville (7-0, 3-0) in region matchups before hosting the Bears in one of the state's longest rivalries.
Increasing their region winning streak to 121, Maryville put Bradley in a quick hole Friday evening. Electing to receive the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss, The Rebels needed just seven plays to get on the scoreboard on a 44-yard pass from highly-recruit senior QB Cade Chambers to senior speedster AJ Davis, who has nine offers in hand, including an SEC and two Big Ten teams.
After the Maryville defense forced the normally potent Bear offense into a three-and-out, the Rebel offense mounted another scoring drive with Chambers taking the ball in himself from the 5 yard line for a 14-0 edge with 3:26 still left in the opening quarter.
After an exchange of turnovers, the hosts were able to add to their advantage with a quick three-play, 46-yard drive as Tennessee commit Tee Hodge plunged over from the 1 for a three-TD lead less than three minutes into the second frame.
Unwilling to give up, Bradley put together its lone scoring drive of the evening after the ensuing kickoff.
Junior Javon Burke returned the kick 24 yards to the Bear 28, then his twin brother Javin directed the march that included a 55-yard hook up with Power 5 prospect Tray Curry and a 22-yard bullet to senior Ashton Boyd on a fourth-and-18 play.
Javin Burke broke the plan of the goal on a one-yard plunge with 4:49 left in the half to get the goose egg off the board.
The Bears put themselves in position for another score when senior Isaac Vaughan drilled the ensuing kickoff off one of the Rebel front men and junior Riley Harmon recovered it on the Rebel 33.
"We had a chance to get right back in it there, but we didn't," bemoaned Floyd. "We could have cut it to 21-14, but we didn't get in the end zone."
Maryville took the ball back three plays later with the second of three interceptions on the evening.
Three plays of their own later, Chambers connected with Liberty University commit Ashton Maples for a 61-yard scoring bomb for a 28-7 halftime lead.
Bradley looked like it might score again before the intermission, after junior Kanon Hall returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bear 42, but 10 plays later the Rebel defense stopped them short on a fourth down try at the Maryville 27.
Bear sophomore Aiden McClary intercepted a pass two plays later and returned it to near midfield, but back-to-back 15-yard penalties quashed any hope of cutting into the deficit.
The hosts forced another three-and-out by the Bear offense to start the second half, then marched down for a 19-yard scoring pass from Chambers to senior tight end Brody Sloan.
Maryville, which has won 152 of its last 155 home games, capped off the scoring with a 10-play, 77-yard march with Chambers scoring again from a yard out to set off the "running clock" for the final 10:52 of the contest.
The Rebels defense held Bradley's offense, which had been averaging more than 48 points and 473 yards a game to just one score and 176 yards air and ground combined.
Senior running back Ricky McCleary was limited to just 49 yards on 17 carries, while Javin Burke was sacked a couple of times while getting just 30 yards on 13 carries, plus completed just 8-of-24 passes for 118 yards.
Curry had a trio of catches for 63 yards, while senior Saylor Clark was limited to 23 yards on three receptions as well.
The Rebel offense put up 474 yards with Chambers connecting on 7-of-12 passes for 187 and three scores, plus carrying the ball a half dozen times for 63 and two more scores.
Junior Parker McGill carried load in the Rebel rushing game with 156 yards on 19 carries.
Returning from a four-game absence with a "turf toe" injury, Hodge gained 42 on eight rushes. Davis had a trio of catches for 64 yards.
The Bear defense came up with a pair of turnovers with Camden Creighton pouncing on a Rebel fumble to go with McClary's pick.
Bears Explode For 62 In Region Opener
By JOE CANNON
Any apprehensions "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd had about his sleuth not being pumped up to take on a team with a 17-game losing streak went away quickly Friday evening.
After the "Black Hole Defense" forced Heritage to go three-and-out in the opening possession, national 2021 college prospect Tray Curry went untouched for 61 yards as he raced to the first of his three opening-quarter touchdowns and the rout was on.
"Obviously there's a big talent difference there," stated Floyd after the 62-14 ravaging of winless Heritage in Bear Stadium. It was the Region 6-2A opener for both squads.
"I don't mean that with any disrespect, it's just obvious we just have a lot more talent than they do.
"The good thing is we came out and executed well early. The bad thing is we had a couple of drives fall out on us. I think we just relaxed," he assessed.
Bradley scored on 7-of-8 first-half possessions and 2-of-3 in the "running clock" final two quarters.
The 62-point production was the most by a Bear offense since Oct. 6, 2000, when Bill Price's squad put up 68 against then fourth-ranked Sevier County. Blake Morris set a school record with 380 of the team-record 695 rushing yards in the blowout.
Bradley opened that season with a 78-20 win at Science Hill and a 62-7 whipping of Clinton on its way to a 9-4 record, losing to Gerald Riggs' state champ Red Bank team for the second time that season in the state quarterfinals.
The current eighth-ranked Bears (2-1) will head to Knoxville this Friday to take on a winless, yet dangerous Bearden squad. The Bulldogs have lost to a trio of unbeaten, state-ranked teams — Knox West (12th in 5A), Maryville (second in 6A) and Dobyns-Bennett (tied for ninth in 6A).
"Bearden's really good quarterback has been out, but I understand he'll be back for us," Floyd related. "It's a tough place to get a win."
For the second straight week, Bradley put up 45-plus points in the first half to quickly put a stop to any upset hopes.
Along with going to the house from 61 yards out on the second Bear offensive play, Power 5 conference recruit Curry got behind the Mountaineer secondary for a wide open 55-yard toss from fellow junior Javin Burke on the second play of the third Bear series.
Still in the opening frame, the 6-foot-5 receiver lined up at running back once again and bobbed-and-weaved for a 31-yard trip to pay dirt to cap the fifth Bear possession.
All total, Curry scurried for 167 yards and three scores on just four touches — that's just under 42 yards each time he got the ball in his hands.
The high-flying act was much more than a one-man show as for the second time in three weeks Bradley had a pair of hundred-yard rushers as junior Riley Harmon joined Curry over the century mark.
The Baylor transfer gained 104 yards on eight carries, including scoring dashes of 16 yards to cap the 49-point Bear first half, plus a 34-yarder to open the fourth-quarter scoring.
In the season-opener against Farragut, Javin Burke ran for 165 yards, while senior Ricky McCleary added 128 as the Bears dropped a heartbreaker.
With 323 of their 452 offensive yards Friday coming on the ground, sophomore Carter Clayton also got in on some late action with five carries for 52 yards, including a 10-yard dash to cap the scoring.
"Riley Harmon plays so hard. It's good to see him have a big night," praised Floyd. "Carter Clayton also ran the ball very well. Our offensive line, first and second team, blocked very well and opened the holes."
McCleary only carried the ball five times on the evening for 14 yards, but broke the plane of the goal twice from four and six yards out.
Junior Javon Burke made his presence known with a trio of runs for 32 yards, including a two-yard TD. He set up his own score with a 25-yard interception return to the Mountaineer 27.
Like most of the starters, gunslinger Javin Burke played only a quarter and a half, completing 6-of-10 passes for 124 yards with the scoring toss to Curry.
Sophomore Destun Thomas led the Bear receiving corps with a trio of catches for 31 yards, while senior standout Saylor Clark only pulled in one for 23 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
"A lot of good things happened tonight, but the bad things are Saylor (Clark) rolled an ankle and (senior center Jake) Tipton's shoulder came out again," Coach Floyd assessed. "For us to do anything this year, we need to make sure we stay healthy.
"Both of those guys will be back next week. They would have come back in tonight, if I'd let them, but with us already up by 28 when Saylor came out, there was no need.
"We got to play a lot of people tonight. Those guys (the reserves) deserve the reps. They practice hard and go hard when they get the chance on Friday nights. They will have to help us down the line, so it's good to get them out there," the veteran Bear mentor stated.
The Bradley defense held Heritage to just 76 rushing yards and 113 through the air as the visitors completed just 13-of-27 aerials.
Senior safety Tucker Still led the Bear attack with five solo tackles, while junior Cam Creighton also dropped five Mountaineers, with one being for a loss.
Harmon and JD Kirkpatrick helped out with a trio of solos tackles, while junior Braydon Clark had a sack, stripping the ball away before teammate Cody McDaniel pounced on it, to set up the second Bear score.
"It's a good first region win. We're not going to complain about anything tonight," commented Coach Floyd.
Bears Out Distance Govs
By JOE CANNON
Bradley Central didn't run a play from inside the "Red Zone" Friday night. It didn't need to.
The eighth-ranked Bears scored seven times from "distance" in a 49-21 Region 2-6A victory over William Blount.
"We're not going to complain about how we score, as long as we're scoring," laughed veteran head coach Damon Floyd, whose Bears have raced to the end zone from 20-plus yards away for 26 of their 48 touchdowns this season.
"Our offense is playing well. Even though longer drives would be nice to give our defense a little more time to rest, we'll gladly take it."
The sixth straight victory over the Governors (2-6, 1-4) moves Bradley to 6-2 overall on the season, plus 4-1 in region play, keeping them in third place behind undefeated and fellow state-ranked Maryville and McMinn County, who are both 8-0 and 4-0 in 2-6A contests.
The second-ranked Rebels blanked Ooltewah 38-0 Friday evening, while the No. 9 Cherokees took care of Cleveland 39-26.
Coach Bo Cagle will take his Tribe to Maryville this Friday for the region championship showdown before hosting the Bears in one of the state's oldest rivalries on Nov. 1 for another key playoff position determining battle.
If Cleveland (3-5, 1-3) and Ooltewah (2-5, 1-3) get past William Blount and conference cellar-dweller Heritage (0-8, 0-4) respectively this week, then when the Blue Raiders visit the Owls on Nov. 1, it will be for the final region playoff spot.
Having already secured their 10th-straight TSSAA playoff berth, Bradley struggled some to start Friday's Homecoming Game, going three-and-out on the game's opening possession.
After the Governors marched to the Bear 32 with their first five offensive plays, the "Black Hole Defense" stiffened with a trio of tackles for loss to offset the first of 15 penalties on the home team.
After the drive stalled, the boys from Maryville attempted a 42-yard field goal, that was short.
Taking over on their own 20, Bradley's offense got in gear, needing just four plays to find paydirt thanks to a 38-yard pass from junior Javin Burke to classmate Tray Curry. Two plays later Burke found senior Saylor Clark, who drug a pair of Governors across the goalline with him on a 33-yard score.
Blount answered with a 15-play, 72-yard scoring drive to even the score with 9:44 left in the second quarter. Senior Seth Cooper did the honors from the 2-yard line for the first of his two scores on the night.
The third Bear drive was cut short when the pigskin was stripped away from a ball carrier after a long run, giving the Governors the ball on their own 11.
Bradley got the ball back at midfield after forcing a punt and needed just two plays to score, this time on a 31-yarder from Burke to Curry.
The Bear defense got in on the scoring 98 seconds later when junior linebacker Camden Creighton snagged a Governor pass, returning it 66 yards for a "Pick 6" and a 21-7 Bear edge at the intermission.
After Bradley senior Hannah Deal was crowned the 2019 Homecoming Queen, riding off in a classic 1965 convertible Corvette, the Bear offense put up four more scores in the second half.
Burke scrambled to get away from pressure and found Curry in the back of the end zone for a 36-yard TD, and hit junior Kanon Hall with a 25-yarder three minutes later in the third frame.
Blount answered with its second score on a six-play, 59-yard drive with Cooper once again getting in from the 2.
The visitors were also able to score in their first possession of the final quarter on what looked like laundry day on the field.
Taking over on their 37, Creighton sacked the Governor QB for a six-yard loss before three straight penalties pushed the visitors back to their own 6.
The zebra's hankies then started going against the host. Four flags provided 46 yards, including three majors in a four-play stretch, to go with 42 earned yards by the Governors, setting up Trey Clemmer for a one-yard score.
The Bear offense wasted no time responding with back-to-back runs by Curry for 24 and 62 yards to paydirt.
Bradley's final score of the contest was set up by a Braydon Clark interception. Going 89 yards in three plays, senior Ricky McCleary broke free for Bradley's second-longest play from scrimmage of the season, sprinting 71 yards to the end zone.
McCleary, who finished with 151 yards on 13 carries, had scored from 73 yards out against Farragut.
Curry had his best game of the season with 229 yards on eight touches.
"We were surprised they tried to single cover Tray (Curry), but they did and he had a great night," praised Coach Floyd. The Power 5 Conference prospect caught five passes for 138 yards and rushed a trio of times for 91, finding the end zone three times in the victory.
Posting a 300-yard day, Burke completed a dozen passes for 266 yards and four TDs, plus rushed four times for 43 yards.
Saylor Clark pulled in a trio of passes for 52 yards, while fellow senior Ashton Boyd grabbed a pair of receptions for 45. Hall had three touches for 38 yards.
Pushing their season scoring mark to 347 points (43.3 average per game), the potent Bears posted 562 yards of offense, including 296 on just 21 carries (14.1 ypc).
"We played good on both sides of the ball," Coach Floyd assessed. "Our offense did what it has been doing, but in an even bigger way tonight.
"I was also happy with the way we played defensively, although two of their scoring drives were literally aided by penalties on us all the way down the field. So that was frustrating, but we dealt with it. We overcame the adversity."
Bradley was flagged 15 times for 156 yards, while Blount drew 13 penalties for 110 yards.
"We stuck together and got a region win, that's what matters," remarked Floyd.
Creighton led the "Black Hole Defense" with nine solo tackles, two assists, a pair of tackes for loss and the "Pick 6."
Fellow linebacker Kam Arrowood had a half dozen solos, three assists and a TFL. Junior Riley Harmon also had six solos and an assist, with a takedown behind the line of scrimmage.
Bradley will step out of region play this Friday with a trip to Soddy-Daisy (5-3), which is coming off a hard-fought 14-7 battle with Rhea County, giving them the top spot in the Region 4-5A race.
"Soddy is always a tough place to play. They will be ready for us," Floyd commented. "It it's not a region game, but like any other game, we want to win it, especially before we go play McMinn."
J.V. Bears Remain Undefeated
SPECIAL TO THE BANNER
OOLTEWAH — Late-arriving equipment only delayed the inevitable as the unbeaten Bradley Central junior varsity football team picked up its fifth straight win, knocking off the Ooltewah Owls on the road Monday, by an 18-6 final.
In a game which saw scores on the first and last plays of the game, the Owls were no match for the Bear defense.
A roadside brush fire, sparking a massive traffic backup on southbound I-75 at White Oak Mountain, forced the kickoff to be pushed back while the Bears waited for their equipment to arrive so they could warm up.
After a brief loosening up period the visitors made quick work, recovering a fumbled opening kickoff at the Ooltewah 27.
Running back Riley Harmon found paydirt on the first play of the game as he scooted 27 yards for a Bear score with only 14 seconds off the clock. The PAT was partially blocked and the Bears held a 6-0 lead.
The teams then exchanged punts as they moved into the second quarter before the Bears drove 80 yards for their second score.
It was set up by a 25-yard run from Ike Phenor, which was followed by a pass interference call they gave the Bears a first down at the Ooltewah 18-yard line.
Phenor toted the pigskin down to the 2-yard line, where Harmon ran it in for the Bears' next score at 2:49 in the half. A bad snap made the PAT no good and the teams went to the half with the Bears in command 12-0.
The final Bear score came when the second half kickoff was returned 78 yards by Destun Thomas. The try for a 2-point conversion was no good and the lead stood at 18-0 just 14 ticks into the third frame.
Bradley coach Colby Dills was pleased with the defensive effort but found the offensive side with some problems to work out.
“The defense was impressive all night and was in great position most of the game. Coach Payne does a great job with them,” he commented after the game.
“We’ve got to get our offense more consistent. We had too many penalties and at times seemed confused on the field.”
The only Owl score of the night came on the last play of the game when they completed a 44-yard pass play to end the game at 18-6.
The Bear JV will take a week off and then complete the season with three home games beginning on Monday, Oct. 7, as they host Cleveland.
Coach Dills feels they’ll need to play better against the Raiders, as well as against Alcoa and Dalton, Georgia, which is lined up to close out the year.
“We’ve got some things to fix. We’ll go back to work to get that done. Our kids gave great effort but we need to get better to face those next three opponents,” he concluded.
Versatility Strength For Tray Curry
By JOE CANNON
One of the main things collegiate coaches are looking for in recruits is versatility.
That makes Bradley Central's Tray Curry one of the top junior recruits in the country.
While the 6-foot-4, 200-pound, two-sport star has already established himself as a top wide receiver, with great hands and leaping ability, what he did Friday night also solidified him as a running back threat.
With the Bears trailing 28-7 and senior starting tailback Ricky McCleary leaving the field with an ankle injury, Curry took over the main ball carrying duties.
Having been stopped for a two-yard loss in his only rush to that point, the smooth-running speedster toted the rock 21 more times for 170 yards and a trio of scores to help turn a three-touchdown deficit into a 14-point victory (49-35) over Region 4-5A leading Soddy-Daisy.
"That's why so many colleges are after him," proclaimed Bradley head coach Damon Floyd. "He's more than just a pass catcher. When we can get the ball in his hands, he can make so many things happen. A lot of his receiving numbers are yards after the catch."
Curry is nearing the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 986, finding the end zone an area-leading 14 times on 55 carries and 22 receptions. He is averaging an astronomical 12.8 yards a touch.
During his first two high school campaigns, he gained 717 yards on 85 touches, with seven finding paydirt.
With more than a dozen college offers already on the table, Curry spent Saturday at the Tennessee-South Carolina game in Knoxville. Both teams are after his gridiron talents.
Along with the Vols and Gamecocks, he also has SEC offers from 10th-ranked Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Arkansas. Top-ranked Alabama has come to town to take a look more than once. He also has an offer from Coach Bruce Pearl to come play SEC basketball at Auburn.
Curry is also considering Power 5 Conference offers from ACC teams Louisville, Virginia Tech and Virginia, plus Nebraska of the Big Ten.
A four-star recruit by 247Sports, he is ranked as the fourth top "athlete" in the state and 16th nationally, with an overall (against players at all positions) ranking of 186 among 2021 recruits.
ESPN also has him as a four-star recruit, ranked fourth in the state and the 31st best junior wide receiver in the nation.
Rivals.com has him listed with a 5.6 rating, making him 15th overall in the state, plus 65th nationally among wide receivers.
With plenty of prep gridiron, and hoop action, still ahead of him, Curry hasn't been in any hurry to announce a decision on his future plans, letting his play speak for itself as other collegiate teams are taking a closer look at him.
Right now, he is concentrating on helping the ninth-ranked Bears as they prepare to battle No. 8 McMinn County for the Region 2-6A runner-up trophy before heading into their 10th straight TSSAA Playoffs.
Moody Named Offensive Assistant of the Year
By PATRICK MacCOON
Play-calling as well as play-making abilities for two from Bradley County were recognized as the Region 2-6A postseason football awards were announced earlier this week.
Leading a balanced offensive attack, first-year Bradley Central offensive coordinator Matt Moody was shown a great amount of respect around the league being named the Offensive Assistant of the Year.
A complete team-effort led the Bears to over 30 points per game for the fourth straight season. The ground attack led by junior Ricky McCleary (1,124 rushing yards) averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 182 yards per game to go along with a solid 198 aerial yards per game.
"This award really is a reflection of all the hard work put in every day from our players and entire offensive staff," Moody said. "Our group is full of hard-working, unselfish, team-first guys. Not to mention, we have some really good players."
"Matt did a great job putting stress on defenses," said BCHS head coach Damon Floyd. "He has a great feel for the game. All of the players love and respect him so much. They give great effort and fight to make Coach Moody proud."
Memorable moments for the award-winners included a check at the line made by Dylan Standifer to an option play for McCleary, who burst and cut sideline-to-sideline for a 50-yard score against Cleveland.
Bradley Central had several others earn postseason recognition for impressive showings on the gridiron.
Selected to the All-Region 2-6A team for the seven-win Bears were: Saylor Clark, Jared Fox, Kins Hooper, Hayden Owenby, Tucker Still, Parker Johnson (Academic) and Standifer.
Clark broke out for an area leading 67 receptions for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns a season after learning under one of the most experienced and talented receiving corps in the state.
Standifer totaled 2,470 yards from scrimmage and 26 touchdowns, while pinning opposing teams back with his boot on punts (36.1 yards per punt).
The all-state quarterback was protected extremely well by Fox. The junior left tackle led the line with 23 pancake blocks and graded out at 89 percent. BC will return four of five on the O-line for next season.
On the defensive side, Hooper shut down opposing attacks with 50 tackles (8 TFL) and shared a team-high in sacks (6) with Owenby who led the team with 76 tackles (10 TFL).
Still recorded 44 tackles and was a strong blanket at the safety position.
Johnson impacted all sides of the ball. The senior nose guard/full back finished with 43 tackles, 11 TFL, six sacks and carried the ball 32 times for 190 yards and four scores.
Bears Maul Mustangs
By JOE CANNON
Sibling rivalry provided a harsh lesson Friday evening as Bradley Central brought sky-high riding Walker Valley back down to earth.
Fresh off a huge season-opening victory, the Mustangs got tormented in their own Corral as their "Big brother" Bears exploded for a 59-14 "noogie," to once again dominate the "County Conflict."
Tying their largest margin of victory (52-7 in 2017), Bradley wrapped up its fifth straight "county championship," since Walker Valley and Cleveland aren't playing each other this season.
All three local teams are now 1-1 on the campaign and will play at home this week as region play begins. The Bears will welcome Heritage (0-2), while the Mustangs will tangle with unbeaten Rhea County (2-0).
The Blue Raiders get the fun task of tangling with 16-time state champion Maryville on Friday. Cleveland is fresh off a 31-19 win over Hardin Valley for new coach Marty Wheeler's 100th victory and first directing the Raiders (see full story this page).
Looking to bounce back from a tough loss to No. 7 Farragut the previous week, 10th-ranked Bradley wasted no time in setting the pace Friday evening in front of jam-pack crowd at the Corral.
After forcing the hosts three-and-out on the opening series, the Bear offense needed just two snaps to find the end zone as the "Burke Brothers" hooked up on a 12-yard pass from Javin to twin Javon just 71 seconds into the contest.
Walker Valley's second possession lasted just two plays as Bear sophomore safety Aiden McClary picked off Tucker Pope's fourth pass attempt.
Six plays later, Javin Burke hooked up with fellow junior Kanon Hall for a 41-yard scoring strike with less than three minutes ticked off the clock.
The visitors added another score before the midpoint of the opening quarter when junior Tray Curry found paydirt for the first time this season on a 12-yard run to cap the next Bear offensive series.
After turning the ball over on downs near the Red Zone on its next possession, Bradley added four scores in the final 8:08 of the first half.
Curry capped a six-play, 61-yard march when Javin Burke found him wide open in the end zone from 19 yards out.
The Bears got another quick chances when junior Braydon Clark stripped the ball loose and classmate Cody McDaniel pounced on it four plays after the ensuing kickoff, giving the Black-and-Gold possession just 38 yards from pay dirt.
Javin Burke went to senior receiver Saylor Clark twice in a row to cover the needed ground, the score coming on an eight-yard toss.
Walker Valley was able to avoid the shutout when junior Brody Swafford returned the kickoff to near midfield. Three plays later Griffin Broome assumed the QB position and was able to break through for a 45-yard scoot for his fourth TD of the season.
The visitors made another trip to the Red Zone on the following drive, this time settling for a 33-yard field goal by senior Isaac Vaughn, who was also true on seven extra-point attempt.
"Isaac Vaughn is getting better and better. He's getting confident," remarked Bear head coach Damon Floyd. "When he first came out he was really nervous and we begged him to come out and help us.
"Now he's chomping at the bit to get out there. He's having fun doing it, not only with extra points, but he has hit two good field goals for us now."
On the second play after the ensuing kickoff, Braydon Clark picked off the second Bear interception of the night and returned it 60 yards to the Mustang 5. Senior Ricky McCleary did the honors on the following play, dancing into the end zone with 41 ticks left on the opening half clock.
"I got to give our offense a lot of credit," praised Coach Floyd. "Javin played really, really well. We didn't want to have to run him much tonight (after 15 carries for 165 yards last week). We've got to keep him healthy for down the road.
"With the defense they (WV) were giving us, we felt like there were some holes in it that we were able to get some guys in and make some plays.
"They were giving us some different looks, coverage wise and Javin did a good job of recognizing it and was able to get the ball to our receivers," he assessed.
"Our offensvie line did a good job of protecting Javin and opening holes for our runners."
With the Bears up 45-7 at the intermission, the second half was played with a "running clock," but the teams combined for three more scores.
Bradley opened the half with an eight-play scoring march with junior Riley Harmon doing the honors on a three-yard run.
"Riley Harmon ran really hard for us tonight," commented Floyd as the Baylor transfer broke off a 15-yard dash later in the game. "He'd be a starter for other teams, but we are so deep at that position with Ricky (McCleary), Javon (Burke) and Tray (Curry)."
The Bear B-teamers scored again on the other second half possession.
Backup QB McClary led the six-play, 72-yard march, taking the ball in on a three-yard plunge for the score with 8:14 left to go. Freshman kicker Ere Rojas split the uprights for the PAT.
"We got to play a lot of guys tonight. That's a good thing in a game like this," Floyd commented. "We went deep. Those guys work hard in practice and deserve some playing time, plus that will help us down the road.
"We'll play a JV game up here Monday, but it was good to get those guys some Friday night action."
Walker Valley finished off the contest with a 10-play drive with Groome finding the end zone again, this time from less than a yard out. Charlie Swafford booted the PAT to become the 10th-leading scorer in Mustang history.
After getting virtually shutout by Farragut last week, Curry had a big night for the Bears with 110 yards on eight touches with a pair of scores. The highly-recruited SEC and Power 5 2021 prospect pulled in a trio of passes for 62 yards, plus carried the ball five times for another 48.
"We wanted to be able to get the ball in Tray's hands more tonight," explained Floyd. "When he gets the ball in his hands he can do some big things with it. He made a couple of great catches tonight, going up high for balls."
Three-year starter Saylor Clark helped out with 85 yards and a score on seven catches, while Kanon Hall had a pair for 48 and a TD.
Javin Burke completed 15-of-20 passes for 240 yards and four TDs, plus gained nine yards on his only carry.
The "Black Hole Defense" held the Herd to 116 yards on 30 rushes, only three of which went for double-digit yardage.
Kole Hall was the WV workhorse with 56 yards on 16 tries, while Groome had 50 yards and his two scores on just four carries.
Pope, who had been the Bradley backup QB the past two seasons before transferring, was stifled by his former teammates, completing just 4-of-15 passes for 38 yards, plus he was picked off twice. Although he was able break free on a 27-yard run once, his rushing total was just seven yards on nine carries, as the Bears sacked him four times.
"We had a good game plan defensively and our guys executed it well tonight," proclaimed Floyd. "We read our keys and tackled a lot better this week. Our guys did a good job of disguising what we were doing and then getting to where the ball was at.
"Our secondary did a good job manning them up and shutting down the passing game."
New Walker Valley head coach Drew Akins knew facing Floyd's Bears would be a tough task for his young Colts.
"We knew this game was just a measuring stick for us of how far we have come and how far we have to go," he said Saturday.
"We still have a long way to go to compete at a high level. I was proud of our players for never losing composure and never quitting. Felt like our players showed a lot of class during and after the game.
"We will learn from last night and it will make us a better football team," he declared. "Now we know what the atmosphere feels like, what the emotion of the game feels like. Next time we will be more prepared and learn from it.
"We know as a team all of our goals are still ahead of us. Everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us. I believe we will learn from this and improve."
Coaching Staff Provides Bears Stability
By JOE CANNON
While the other two local high school football programs spent the spring getting to know new head coaches, adjusting to new routines and schemes, the Bradley Central players knew exactly what to expect.
Starting his 14th season at the Bear helm, Damon Floyd will be facing his eighth and ninth opposing head coaches in the inter-country rivalry games this fall.
Over the years he, with the help of a crew of longtime assistant coaches, have honed Bear practices and offseason workouts to the point where returning players know exactly what is expected of them and how things are going to be run.
“Our guys know if they want to play on Friday nights in the fall, that means they show up for offseason conditioning. When we are allowed to practice, they are to be there and participate fully, unless they have an injury,” he related recently about his over 100 Bear hopefuls again this season.
“The success in the fall comes only from what we do in the offseason. You don’t just show up on game night and expect to win. You have to put in the time year round to prepare.
“The standard has been set. They (the Bear players) know if you don’t show up, you’re not going to play. That’s not just summers, that starts in January,” the veteran mentor emphasized.
The Bears are coming off a 7-4 season and a disappointing early exit in the opening round of their ninth straight TSSAA playoffs.
This year’s sleuth returns much of its explosive offensive power, although two-time all-state QB Dylan Standifer has graduated, but must rebuild the “Black Hole Defense,” that suffered a devastating blow during the spring game.
“We’ve always said ‘next man up’ when is comes to injuries, so someone will have to step up,” Floyd said of All-Region linebacker Kins Hooper tearing his ACL in the spring game at Austin-East.
“The crazy thing was he did it on offense. We use him in short yardage situations as an added blocker. We were working on goal line situations near the end of the game. He was in and got hurt,” the Bradley mentor related.
“There’s no hiding the fact he was one of our top defensive players last year. We were expecting big things from him again this year, but he’ll miss the whole season. The good news is he’s just a junior, so we’ll have him for his senior year.”
Other than the key injury, Floyd said, “The spring (drills) went well. We are trying to find some depth.
“Offensively, we’ve got a lot of guys back, so we are just trying to pick up where we left off. Defensively, we’re trying to find some guys to replace what we lost and get the best 11 guys on the field.
“We came a long way defensively during the spring, but we still have a long way to go. Obviously losing Kins (Hooper) is a big blow.
“With him out, we only have three starters back on defense — Kam Arrowood (OLB), Tucker Still (S) and Davion Dunn (CB). We’re replacing our three up front, three linebackers and a couple of defensive backs,” related the “Papa Bear,” who is also the team’s defensive coordinator.
“We feel like we have some guys that can really step up, so there shouldn’t be any drop off. We’re going to move some guys around. In the past we’ve been able to have guys play just offense or defense and we will have the majority of that again.
“However, we will have some guys like Tray (Curry), Saylor (Clark) and Javon Burke that may play both ways. The good thing is they all play the same positions on offense and defense, so they’ll spell each other.
“Javon will start at corner, plus he’ll play some receiver and running back both. We’ll find different ways to get it (the ball) to him. He played only JV last year (after transferring in from Cleveland). He’s the fastest guy we’ve had since Deonte Lindsey and that includes Lameric Tucker.
Another couple of newcomers will help on the defensive side as well.
“Gage Anderson is a freshman coming in from Lake Forest,” Floyd explained. “He’s a 6-foot-1, 185-pound running back that can fly. He’ll play some running linebacker as well.
“We also have C.J. Hardy, a defensive end that has transferred in from Kentucky, who has a cousin that’s been offered by Alabama, Ohio State and the likes. We expect him to start up front.” The 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior’s skills have been mentioned in the same breath as former Bear standout Jay Person, who recently transferred from Appalachian State to play for UT-Chattanooga.
On the other side of the ball, the bad news is Standifer is gone to pursue his baseball career at Lee University. Also leaving the team was his backup, Tucker Pope, who transferred to Walker Valley.
The good news there's a vast variety of dangerous weapons left behind for the “new gunslinger” in town, who appears to know what to do with them.
After getting forced into some playing time his freshman season due to Cleveland’s numerous QB injuries, Javin Burke spent last fall playing for McCallie’s JV team before transferring to Bradley in January, where his twin brother Davon had been the whole school year.
“Javin’s got all the tools. He’s very, very smart. A straight-A student, so he picks up things very well,” Floyd assessed.
“He’s very athletic, strong and fast. Like any other quarterback, as long as he doesn’t try to win the game by himself and uses the weapons around him, he’s going to be successful. It’s up to us (coaches) to put him in that kind of situation and make sure he’s in the right frame. If this kid can’t play, it’s our fault.”
The Bear coaches feel confident he will continue the recent run of strong quarterback play the Black-and-Gold has enjoyed.
“He’s got the tools to continue the type of quarterback play we’ve had the last 10 years (four straight years of all-state performances),” Floyd and offensive coordinator Matt Moody agreed. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be right in line with the quality of the (Bryce and Cole) Copelands and (Brent and Dylan) Standifers we’ve had for the last decade.
“With our offense, it does highlight the quarterback. He’ll be able to make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage. We’re going to count numbers in the box and throw it if we need to or if we need to run, we have a 1,000-yard back in Ricky (McCleary, 1,124, 11 TDs) in the backfield. Javin is also very capable of carrying the ball and getting yardage.”
Burke has a plethora of options when it comes to airing the ball out with Curry, a Power 5 prospect, and Clark who combined for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 TDs last season, plus others that will make defenses play honest against all of them.
The Bear offense will be led by a veteran front line.
“We’ve got four of our five offensive linemen back. We expect them to be as good as any offensive line we’ve ever had,” proclaimed Moody, who is entering his second season at the team’s OC.
“(Senior left tackle) Jared Fox separated his shoulder the first day (of spring drills), so we sat him out the rest of spring. We know what he can do, so that’s no big deal. We needed to get some other guys reps there anyway.”
“We had a lot of guys step up throughout the lineup,” declared Floyd. “When you’re around them every day, you’re not really surprised at what they can do.
“We had a lot of very positive things, but we also saw some negatives we need to work on. Everybody on our team needs to keep getting better.”
With plenty of explosive playmakers, the veteran mentor assessed, “Our biggest thing offensively is our kids are going to have to be selfless. They need to be happy about their teammates making plays. We’ve got a lot of talented kids that can do big things, but there’s only one ball.”
The potent offense was evident in the annual scrimmage game at the end of spring practice.
“Our offense did well at Austin-East, but the type of defense they played against us, we won’t see much of this fall,” Floyd related. “They played man-to-man (on the Bear receivers) and we were able to beat them one-on-one. We’ve got multiple guys that can make big plays. We have really good team speed. There are a lot of guys that we know if we can get the ball in their hands, they have the ability to go to the house.”
Bradley was able to race ahead with four quick touchdowns before finishing off a 35-7 win over the Knoxville squad that advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals last fall before falling to state champion Alcoa.
“It was 28-0 pretty quick and then we started subbing. They (A-E) only had 26 players, but the 26 they had are very good players.”
Before the TSSAA dead period (June 23-July 6) started yesterday, Bradley was able to get in a big 7-on-7 tournament.
“We went to UT (Knoxville) for a 7-on-7 and was supposed to go to Blackman (Tuesday), but it got rained out. We’ll do some more in July,” related Floyd.
“For us, as much as we throw it, the 7-on-7s are good, especially with a new quarterback taking over. It gives him a chance to work with our receivers and learn them, plus it lets us work on our pass protections.”
At Tennessee, which is one of several top teams recruiting Curry, the Bears went 3-2, falling to defending 6A state champion Oakland in the semifinals. The other loss came to Class 5A state champ Knox Catholic, which has several D-I prospects, in pool play.
Bradley defeated South Carolina teams from East Laurnes and Dorman, as well as Mt. Juliet, which was 12-0 before falling to Oakland in the state quarterfinals last fall.
Region 6-A Still Chasing Maryville
By: Patrick MacCoon
Without a region loss since 2000, the Maryville High School football program remains a national power capable of winning a state championship year in and year out.
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For the past four seasons, the Rebels have won every league game they've played by at least three scores, and they're a clear-cut favorite this season to win the Region 2-6A title again after doing so the past two years. Maryville brings back its top playmakers on offense, including running back Tee Hodge, who has committed to Tennessee, and the Rebels have an experienced linebacker corps to lead on the other side of the ball.
Facing an opponent that boasts a roster loaded with countless college prospects might not seem like fun for most, but it's something Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd looks forward to every year.
"You play the game to go against the best teams and do everything you can to try and beat them," Floyd said. "Lots of high school players in this area dream to play in the SEC, so I don't know why anyone would not want to go up against Maryville. Everybody is shooting at Maryville, but we don't fear them by any means."
Bradley Central has had an all-state selection at quarterback the past four years: Cole Copeland in 2015 and '16 before he went on to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Dylan Standifer — who last fall signed to play baseball for Lee University — in '17 and '18.
Eight starters return in the Bears' spread offense, but they'll count on a new leader as Javin Burke, a junior who transferred from McCallie, takes over behind center. Over the past four years, Bradley Central's starting quarterback has averaged 2,561 passing yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions per season and rushed an average of 104 times for 420 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Our offense really sets up well for the quarterback to be a dual threat," Floyd said. "As long as Javin makes the right decisions and trusts his teammates, he will be set up for success. He has the ability to make really athletic plays when he needs to. Our high expectations of our quarterback are not changing."
Burke will have an experienced line to work behind along with Ricky McCleary, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, and dynamic targets in Saylor Clark and Tray Curry.
Curry is ranked among the top 150 recruits for the signing class of 2021 and is the No. 2 athlete in Tennessee, according to 247Sports.com. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound receiver already has offers from seven Southeastern Conference schools: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
"Tray can open up more windows for other receivers," Floyd said. "Everyone knows where he is on the field, and he's getting better and better at just 15 years old. We are not going to try and force feed it to anyone, but we will be smart about trying to get the ball to Saylor and Tray as much as we can."
With nine defensive starters to replace, the Bears have questions regarding a unit that will need to play well to make a deep playoff run.
Ooltewah has lost the star duo of Sincere Quinn and Kyrell Sanford, but the Owls can look to a deep and talented offensive line to lead the way along with quarterback Lane Moore, a senior but a first-year starter. The Owls won nine games last season and will have a tough schedule as they face seven teams that made the playoffs last year, including four that won region championships.
McMinn County brings back a 1,000-yard running back in junior Jalen Hunt and an all-region selection at linebacker in Jalen Sharp, who will try to be a bulldozer sometimes at running back as well.
Cleveland returns college prospect Robert Flowers at receiver, but the Blue Raiders have a significant lack of experience at quarterback. Flowers, a 6-foot-4 playmaker, was unstoppable for secondaries last season, when he averaged more than 90 yards and more than a touchdown per game.
Maryville did not have a lead against McMinn County or Cleveland at the end of the first quarter last season, but the Rebels could not be held down for the long haul.
William Blount and Maryville Heritage round out the region.
REGION 2-6A OUTLOOK
Team to beat: With 13 state championships since 1998, the Maryville Rebels are a perennial power. Running back Tee Hodge, who has committed to Tennessee, is a leading force for the program that has not lost a region game since falling to Halls in 2000.
Watch out for: Bradley Central has a new mobile threat at quarterback to pair with talented running back Ricky McCleary, who had 12 touchdowns and 1,191 yards as a junior. The Bears also return standout receivers Saylor Clark and Tray Curry, who combined for 16 touchdowns and nearly 1,600 yards in 2018. If the offensive line can lead the way, the Bears could have a big season.
Best game: Drama hasn’t lacked in the past two meetings between Bradley Central and Ooltewah. The Bears won 42-35 at Ooltewah in 2017, and the Owls landed payback with a 28-27 home victory last year. A Sept. 20 matchup between a pair of teams expected to battle for the second spot in the region should provide lots of entertainment.
Dream schedule: Ooltewah will host Red Bank, McMinn County, Bradley Central, Rhea County and Maryville, and the Owls should be fired up to try to defend their turf and win some big games. But they have tough road games against 2018 region champions David Crockett in the Aug. 23 opener and Soddy-Daisy on Sept. 27.
Nightmare schedule: Cleveland opens the season at Knoxville Central — the reigning Class 5A champion — and then the Blue Raiders face challenging home games against Hardin Valley and Maryville before traveling to Soddy-Daisy. A showdown with rival Bradley Central on Oct. 4 is the Cleveland’s first of four straight road games.
Players to watch: Bradley Central no longer has two-time all-state quarterback Dylan Standifer, who was a senior last season, but Javin Burke has the speed and playmakers to have a big year. Curry is being heavily recruited by Southeastern Conference teams, and a breakout campaign could push him and the team to another level. Ooltewah’s offensive line abounds with college talent, led by major prospect Christian Benoit, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior. The Owls will look to senior quarterback Lane Moore to help right the ship, while Chase Sanders, Josh Shelvin and Tanner Rhodes are expected to lead the secondary, linebackers and defensive line, respectively. McMinn County returns 1,000-yard back Jalen Hunt, while offensive lineman Garrett Priest and linebacker Jalen Sharp are other key players. Cleveland will look to talented receiver Robert Flowers to follow up a 900-yard, double-digit-touchdown season, and Blue Raiders linebacker Money Palelei showed extreme flash as a freshman last year and is quick to strike. Maryville returns a stellar quarterback in Cade Chambers along with top-tier playmakers in receivers A.J. Davis and Ashton Maples, while Hodge’s strength and speed out of the backfield are exceptional. Rebels senior linebacker Mason Shelton is a strong leader for a defense that abounds with sophomore talent.
Bears Boot Raiders
By JOE CANNON
While the Black Hawk military helicopter blasting off just before kickoff created a loud rumble, that was nothing compared to the earth-shaking roar from Bear Stadium a couple of hours later.
The Richter Scale registering noise was deafening as Bradley Central senior Isaac Vaughan booted his 25-yard field goal just inside the left upright with just 6.5 ticks on the clock to complete an epic Bear comeback victory over archrival Cleveland High Friday evening.
"It is amazing. My heart is still pounding," proclaimed the converted soccer player about 10 minutes after sealing the 37-35 tooth-and-nail victory.
"I was kind of freaking out a little bit," he said as the Bears drove 45 yards on nine plays in final 90 seconds with no timeouts, to set up the dramatic game-winning attempt.
"When I went out there, I just concentrated on my technique. I didn't want to overdo it, because that's what messes me up. I just tried to stay true to my form."
The snap from Cody Cox and the hold by Tucker Carpenter were true, and even though the kick "wankled" a little left, it stayed inside the goal post for Vaughan's third field goal of the season.
After having to be convinced to give football a try for the first time since middle school last spring, Vaughan, a standout for the Bradley soccer team, has also been true on 34-of-37 PAT kicks for the fourth-ranked Bears (5-1, 3-0 Region 2-6A) so far this season.
The last-second heroics were set up by Bradley rallying from a 28-7 halftime deficit to even the score before Cleveland (3-3, 1-2) pulled back ahead with sophomore Tetoe Boyd's second touchdown of the night with four minutes to go in the contest.
The Bears answered when junior QB Javin Burke found the end zone for the second time himself, with 1:55 on the clock.
Trailing by a point, the Bradley coaches decided to try to win the game at that point, and went for a two-point conversion. The ball carrier slipped before making it to the line of scrimmage and the hosts were forced into a tough predicament.
"We had played great in the second half, but to be honest, I didn't know if we'd be able to stop them from scoring, if we went to overtime," explained "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd. "We didn't want to get in that 10-yard situation against them. It was time to win the game."
However, after the strategy backfired, Floyd's "Black Hole Defense" had his back.
Rising to the occasion after the ensuing kickoff and a penalty gave the Blue Raiders a first-and-5 at their own 25, the Bear defense stuffed Boyd three straight times, allowing him just the final three yards of his 163 on 29 carries for the night, with the hosts using a timeout after each play to preserve the clock.
After Cleveland kicker Lawson Dale bombed a 46-yard punt, which Bear senior Saylor Clark picked up on a bounce and returned it just six yards to his own 32, Bradley caught a break when the visitors were flagged for a "crack-back block," adding another 15 yards to get the ball near midfield.
Instead of working the sidelines with less than 90 ticks remaining, the Bears made a trio of rushes and a pair of passes to Clark, all which stayed inbounds, plus used three "spikes" and an incomplete pass to kill the clock and set up the game-winning kick.
"It's a great win for us. I'm happy for our kids," Coach Floyd proclaimed. "You've got to give credit to Coach (Marty) Wheeler and his staff, they took it to us in the first half.
"I'm disappointed in myself because we had two weeks to prepare and they (CHS) did a better job of preparing than we did.
"It boils down to our kids didn't want to lose this game. I'd like to take some credit for this, but I can't. Our kids came back out (in the second half) with effort and resiliency and overcame adversity to pull out this win.
"Honestly, I thought we came a little cocky and that cost us," the veteran Bear mentor stated. "We've got to quit waiting and take the field with intensity for the opening kick off."
The 45th "Crosstown Clash" saw the archrivals combine for 879 yards of offense, with the visitors holding just a three-yard edge (441-438). The 72 points scored was the most since 2001 when Cleveland claimed a 61-34 victory.
Although Bradley has won the last five meetings, the Raiders still hold a 27-18 overall edge in the matchup that was recognized nationally as part 2019 Great American Rivalry Series.
Burke, who finished with 17 carries for 130 yards and two scores, plus completed 15-of-27 passes for 212 yards and three more TDs, was named the game's Most Valuable Player, earning a special trophy from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Also recognized with college scholarship awards were seniors Michael Holyfield of Bradley and Zach Turner from Cleveland, for their academic and athletic performance.
Cleveland came out of the gate strong, scoring on all four of its first-half possessions.
Junior Kley McGowan broke free for a 66-yard dash to pay dirt on the third Raider offensive play of the night, senior Greyson Merkel scored from 33 yards out to cap a four-play second drive in the opening quarter.
The Raiders pushed their lead to 21-0 when McGowan fired a halfback pass to senior Robert Flowers, who outbattled a defender for a 61-yard score at the 4:09 mark of the second frame.
Bradley finally found pay dirt on the ensuing possession, using a half-dozen plays to cover 66 yards, with Burke hitting Power 5 junior prospect Tray Curry with a 36-yard strike.
With a little over two minutes on the clock, Cleveland had time enough to drive down for another score. Boyd almost took it in from 65-yards out, but a TD-saving tackle by Bear senior safety Tucker Still pulled him down at the Bradley 38. Four plays later, Boyd bulled in from the 8-yard line.
Junior Lawson Dale, who now has 20 PATs to go with a pair of field goals, split the uprights to push the advantage to 28-7 at the intermission.
After Bradley honored its TSSAA State Champion Bearette basketball team at the intermission, the "Black Hole Defense" came back out strong, allowing the visitors just one first down in their first two possessions.
After the first stop, Bradley needed just six plays to cover 80 yards, with Burke breaking free for the final 50 for the score.
On the second Raider punt of the night, the line-drive style kick, hit a Cleveland blocker in the back and popped straight up into the air and was caught by Bear defensive end TJ Hardy and returned to the CHS 23.
Five plays later Burke hooked up with Bear senior running back Ricky McCleary for an 11-yard TD toss.
Cleveland was able to mount a drive on its third try of the second half, marching 52 yards on 11 plays. A 41-yard field try by Dale had the distance, but was just wide left.
Taking over possession on their own 23, the Bears put together a nine-play drive, culminated by an 18-yard toss from Burke to Clark to tie the game at 28-all with 5:47 remaining.
Undaunted, Cleveland mounted its final scoring march with Boyd carrying the mail the entire way for runs of 10, 10, 41 and the final 1 yard to go back up 35-28 with 3:59 on the clock, setting the stage for Bradley's historic rally.
Junior Kanon Hall set up the final Bear TD, returning the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to the Bradley 43.
After a 22-yard dash and a 15-yard catch by McCleary, Burke was able to squeeze inside the right pylon from five yards out before the ill-fated conversion try.
McCleary finished with 102 yards on 18 touches, while Hall led the receiving corps with five catches for 74 yards.
Curry collected 61 yards on three catches and a trio of rush attempts, while Clark had a trio of receptions for 41 yards.
Senior Ashton Boyd pulled in a key 18-yard reception on a fourth-and-11 play to set up the next-to-last Bear TD.
Still paced the "Black Hole Defense" with seven solo tackles, while linebackers Camden Creighton and Kam Arrowood were in on a half-dozen tackles apiece.
Defensive end Tucker Carpenter had four solos and an assist, with Hardy having four takedowns and the 10-yard deflected punt return.
On the other side of the ledger, Flowers joined Boyd as the top Raider performers with 150 yards on eight touches, including a half-dozen catches for 139.
McGowan had the 6-yard scoring dash and the 61-yard TD pass to Flowers, while Merkel gained 51 yards on a half-dozen carries.
Raider QB Gage Kinsey completed 6-of-9 passed for 89 yards.
The Cleveland defense was lead by senior Parker Chastain with eight solos and an assist, with sophomore Leo Palelei adding four solo takedowns, two for a loss and the game's lone sack. Turner finished with a trio of solo tackles and a help.
"(I'm) Proud of our kids for the way they represented their team, school and city," was Raider head coach Marty Wheeler's lone comment after experiencing his first "Crosstown Clash."
Bears Offense Outguns Owls
By JOE CANNON
OOLTEWAH — With some teams, it's pick your poison — try to stop one star and another will hurt you.
With fifth-ranked Bradley Central there are so many dangerous offensive weapons, it's impossible to focus on stopping just one or two.
Local rival Ooltewah found that out Friday evening as five different Bears found the end zone a total of eight times in a 54-28 onslaught. The teams combine for more than 1,150 yards of offense at Jim Jarvis Field.
"Our offense is fun to watch. It's not a one- or two-man show, we have a lot of weapons. It can be a different person, or two, each week who have a big night," proclaimed veteran head coach Damon Floyd after his Bears put up 617 yards of offense, improving to 4-1 on the season and 2-0 in Region 2-6A play.
"We have been able to spread the ball around, so teams can't concentrate on one or two guys. This week it was Kanon (Hall) and Javin's (Burke) turn, but they weren't the only ones as Ricky (McCleary), Tray (Curry) and Saylor (Clark) all scored as well."
While Burke exploded for 125 yards on 10 rushes for a pair of touchdowns, plus completed 16-of-23 passes for 304 yards and four more scores, Hall pulled in nine aerials for 200 yards, including a 37-yarder from Tray Curry on a halfback pass for one of his trio of TDs.
"Javin (Burke) is continuing to do what he needs to do. He's accuracy on his throws is right on. If a team drops back to protect for the pass, he can take off and has the ability to go all the way on almost any play," praised Floyd. "The offensive line is also doing a great job giving him time to throw and blocking for runs.
"Teams know what Tray (Curry), Saylor (Clark) and Ricky (McCleary) can do, but each week were having others step up as well. Last week it was Ashton Boyd (126 receiving yards and a TD at Bearden). This was Kanon's (Hall) week.
"I kind of hate to go into our bye week because I don't want to mess up our chemistry and execution," he added, referring to Bradley having this week off before facing archrival Cleveland (3-2, 1-1 Region 2-6A) at Bear Stadium on Oct. 4.
Curry, a highly sought after Power 5 recruit, gained 75 yards Friday on 10 touches, catching a 27-yard scoring pass from Burke to go with his own TD toss.
McCleary raced for 98 yards, including the game's most exciting scoring play just before the half.
With the score tied at 21-all, Bradley was driving when Burke was looking to pass, but got blindside by an Owl defender, jarring the ball loose. McCleary scooped up the pigskin, broke several tackle attempts and battled his way 35 yards to the end zone with just 34 seconds to go in the first half.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, the Bears immediately got the ball back as junior Cameron Creighton pounced on an Owl fumble just 27 yards from the end zone.
Burke broke through the line and scampered to paydirt on the following play, but a penalty flag took the points off the board and backed the Bears up to the 35.
Undaunted, two plays later as the clock hit zero, Burke found Hall at the back of the end zone with a laser, to give the Black-and-Gold a 34-21 advantage at the intermission.
"Those plays right there just before the half were a huge momentum shift," declared Coach Floyd. "It took Ooltewah out of what they wanted to do offensively.
"We also made a defensive adjustment in the second half, going to a four-man front and the kids played better."
The Owls had matched the Bear scoring in the first 23-plus minutes of the contest, with senior Jaquan Greenhill gaining almost half of his 204 yards on 23 carries, four of which accounted for the host's scores.
"We got back into some bad habits defensively in the first half, which is what cost us against Farragut (a 37-30 season-opening loss). I don't know if it was from fatigue or what, but we did a better job in the second half."
Opening the game with a 15-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a Burke plunge from the 1, that took more than seven minutes off the clock as Bradley scored on its first six possessions and 8-of-9 on the evening.
The junior signal caller added a 40-yard dash to paydirt on the second series and then connected with senior Saylor Clark on a 62-yard catch-and-run for the third.
Putting up 436 yards of offense, Ooltewah (1-3, 1-1) matched the first three Bear TDs before the whirlwind scores off the two fumbles in the final 34 seconds of the opening half.
The Bradley 'D' was able to limit the Owls to just one score in the second half, while the offense kept its foot on the gas.
"We know from the past that any lead against Ooltewah isn't safe," stated Floyd in reference to a pair of 21-point, second-half rallies by the Owls in their last two meetings. "They've come back on us before, so we didn't let up there late in the game.
"Our kids' mind frame is we want to score every time we have the ball. We're disappointed if we don't. We are doing a good job of staying aggressive."
The Bear second half scores included Burke hitting Curry from 27 yards out, Curry's razzle-dazzle pass to Hall early in the fourth frame and Burke firing off his back foot for a 46-yard bullet to Hall in the end zone.
"Javin was on target and Kanon made a couple of really great catches," praised Floyd.
After missing last week's game with a high ankle sprain, Saylor Clark had a pair of receptions for 76 yards before re-aggravating the injury. "Saylor could have come back in, but under the circumstances we didn't want to risk it," the coach explained.
"Javon (Burke, who had 37 yards on two carries) turned his ankle pretty bad and we are waiting to hear the doctor's report about (linebacker) Tucker Thompson's lower leg," Floyd said of a couple other key Bears.
Tucker had a trio of solo tackles before leaving the game.
Senior safety Tucker Still led the Bear defense with 11 solos tackles, three assists and a tackle for loss.
Creighton was in on eight tackles, plus had the key fumble recovery. Junior LB Riley Harmon had a trio of solo take downs, plus was in on three other tackles.
Senior LB Kam Arrowood had five hits and picked off an Owl pass, returning it 17 yards to the Owl 15 to end the final series of the game. Afterward, Burke took a knee twice to let the clock run out.
Senior place kicker Issac Vaughn extended his Bear record consecutive extra-point streak to 27 before barely missing one and having another partially blocked. He finished with six PATs, raising his mark to 29-of-32, plus a pair of field goals for 35 points on the season.
Averaging 56 points in its last four games, Bradley has tilted the toteboard for 254 points, while amassing over 2,400 offensive yards at the midpoint of the season.
Bears Bite Bulldogs
By JOE CANNON
KNOXVILLE — Overcoming some early difficulties, seventh-ranked Bradley Central put 42 straight points on the scoreboard for a blowout of Bearden Friday evening for its third straight win.
"We were very aggressive on defense to start with, but then we turned it around once we started lining up correctly. Then, we had probably the best overall quarter of football we've had since I've been here in the third," veteran Bear head coach Damon Floyd said of the 49-21 victory.
In that first frame of the second half, the "Black Hole Defense" held the Bulldogs to just three rushing yards and no first downs, plus junior Javon Burke returned a fumble recovery 48 yards for a score.
"We really got after it defensively in the quarter, plus our offense exploded," proclaimed Coach Floyd.
The very potent Bear offense, which has scored 178 points so far this season, put up almost 200 of its 505 total yards while finding the end zone three times, including the opening play of the final quarter.
Now 3-1 on the season, Bradley will return to Region 2-6A play on Friday with a short trip down I-75 to Ooltewah. The always-tough Owls (1-2, 1-1) are coming off a 24-14 home loss to McMinn County.
"We're on the road again for a very important region game with Ooltewah that has huge playoff implications," Floyd declared.
Bearden (0-4) took the opening kickoff Friday and promptly drove 67 yards on nine plays with little difficulty for the game's first score.
After the teams exchanged punts, Bradley was able to even the game with a three-play drive for 55 yards, with senior Ricky McCleary bobbing-and-weaving for 20 yards to pay dirt. Bear junior QB Javin Burke set up the score with a 30-yard scramble the play before.
Undaunted, the Bulldogs answered with 10-play, 58-yard scoring march that was aided by a pair of key Bear penalties, the second of which negated an interception inside the 10-yard line.
The Black-and-Gold didn't waste any time responding, when Javin Burke hooked up with senior Ashton Boyd for a 53-yard TD toss on the second play after the ensuing kickoff to even the score at the end of the opening period.
Bradley picked up the lone score of the second quarter, covering 52 yards on a half-dozen plays with highly-recruited junior Tray Curry scampered the final 18 to the end zone at the 7:53 mark.
The Bears appeared to find paydirt on their following possession when Curry scooped up a fumble by a teammate and dashed 74 yards with it, but one of 11 first-half flags against Bradley brought the ball back to the Bradley 21.
Burke and Boyd hooked up for a 34-yard over-the-shoulder catch into double coverage on the following play to cross midfield.
After two more flags against the visitors, Curry broke free for a 22-yard dash before a defender made a TD-saving tackle at the Bearden 26.
The Bears were able to move into the Red Zone as the first half clock ran down, appearing to get out of bounds to stop the clock inside the 10, but the final few ticks were allowed to run out. After the referees put a second back on the board, which would have allowed Bradley to at least kick a field goal or run one more play, the officials conferred and determined the half was over.
Coming back out of the locker room more determined, the Bears "took complete control of the contest," according to longtime local broadcaster Earl Rowan.
Bradley marched 80 yards on eight plays to open the second half, with McCleary capping the drive with his second TD of the contest, this one from four yards out.
Senior spearhead LB Kam Arrowood threw a Bulldog ball carrier for a three-yard loss on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, and then the "Black Hole Defense" forced back-to-back incomplete passes for a three-and-out.
On the first play after the punt, Javin Burke and junior Kanon Hall connected on a 46-yard scoring strike.
After a good kickoff return got the hosts near midfield, Bearden decided to go for it on a fourth-and-one when the ball came free for the second straight play, this time with Javon Burke coming away with it and heading to the end zone for the third Bear score in 88 seconds.
Another strong three-and-out defensive stand got the visitors the ball back, this time driving 71 yards on nine plays, including a 40-yard pass completion to Boyd.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, junior Riley Harmon did the honors from three yards out for his fourth TD of the season.
Senior Issac Vaughn drilled his 23rd straight extra-point for the final Bear point of the evening. The senior soccer player is now 24-of-25 on PATs, plus had a pair of field goals. He has been a perfect 7-for-7 in each of the last three Bear victories.
The Bradley record is eight PATs in a game, set by four different kickers, the last of which included Clay Shoemaker last season and Anthony White twice in 2012.
"I'm not sure of the record for number (of PAT kicks made) in a row, but I have to think 23 has to be right at the top," declared Bear historian Gary Ownbey. "It's the most I can remember right-off hand."
Bearden was able to add Friday's final points with their starters going against the Bear reserves in the "running clock" final frame, scoring on a 45-yard pass play with 2:28 remaining.
Bulldog senior kicker Conner Cross upped his remarkable extra-point mark to 55 in a row during the contest.
Bradley gained 319 yards on the ground, with McCleary leading the way with 96 on a dozen rushes, twice finding pay dirt. Curry (8-for-88), who scored once, and Javin Burke (6-for-63) both averaged double digits on their carries. Harmon finished with 28 yards on a half-dozen tries and a score.
Burke also completed 6-of-9 passes for 186 yards split evenly between Boyd (3-for-126) and Hall (3-for-60), with both finding the end zone once.
"Our offensive line dominated all night long," praised Coach Floyd. "They opened big holes for our runners, and Javin (Burke) was one target when we did throw.
"They (Bearden) had two players going for Tray (Curry) on every play, so we felt he would do better at running back for us, and he did a great job.
"With Saylor (Clark, a senior three-year starter) out (with a high-ankle sprain), Boyd and Hall did a great job for us receiving," the coach assessed. "They made some big plays for us.
"Other than the first drive, our defense did a great job," Floyd declared. "A lot of our penalties are intensity penalties, but we want to keep playing with intensity. We did a good job of not letting that affect us."
Like they were the last time they played at Bearden (2016), the Bears were flagged for 13 penalties, this time for 180 yards.
Bears Come up Short against Admirals
By JOE CANNON
More than 500 yards of total yardage, including four touchdowns from 50-plus yards out, excited the Bear Nation Friday night, but once again Farragut spoiled the season opener.
"They've beaten us in the opener a few times now (three straight) and we've gone on to have successful seasons (17-7 the last two years with TSSAA playoff berths in both)," declared veteran Bradley Central head coach Damon Floyd after his team blew a pair of 13-point leads in a 37-30 heartbreaking outcome.
"We just weren't executing. The good thing is we hung with a very good team (Farragut is ranked 10th in the state preseason poll). We had a chance to win," Floyd said.
"We're not playing very well and that's on me. We did not look very well-coached tonight," he said, falling on the proverbial sword.
"It was a loss in the column, but this can't dictate our season. It wasn't a region loss. It is what it is at this point and it's a long season. We'll learn from it and work hard to improve.
"It's about getting better at this point. I've got to make sure we do a better job of executing the fundamentals," Floyd added. "That's a tough one (game) to let get away."
The explosive Bear offensive output, plus a program record 97-yard kick off return for a TD, was countered by 15 penalties for 165 yards, plus four turnovers.
Bradley will have to refocus in a hurry with a trip to Charleston on tap for the annual "County Conflict" against Walker Valley, which is riding high after snapping a 13-game losing streak with a 42-40 win at Karns in its season opener.
The Burke brothers, twins Javin and Javon, exploded in their Bear debuts Friday, combining for 434 of Bradley's 580 total yards (rushing, passing, kick returns).
Javin gained 165 yards on 15 carries, plus completed 10-of-23 passes for 117 yards. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior transfer from McCallie broke free on scoring runs of 56 (third quarter) and 53 yards (second quarter).
Meanwhile, his even speedier sibling, who came over directly from Cleveland High where both played as freshmen, accounted for the first Bear points of the season when he answered Farragut's first score by returning the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to pay dirt.
Ironically, Javon broke the record set by Dionte Lindsey — Coach Floyd had said Javon was the fastest Bear since Lindsey's playing days. Lindsey had set the mark at 96 yards in 2008 against in a loss to Oak Ridge.
Javon had a total of 140 yards on a trio of kick returns, plus 12 yards on three rushes and three receptions from his brother.
Returning 1,100-yard rusher Ricky McCleary opened his senior season with a bang breaking free for a 73-yard scoring jaunt on his fifth carry on the night as the clock ran out on the opening quarter. He finished with 128 yards on 17 rushes.
Junior Kanon Hall made a strong first Friday night impression with 71 yards on a trio of catches and a pair of kick returns. He transfered over from Polk County after his freshman season and, like the Burkes, was limited to junior varsity play last year before becoming varsity eligible.
Senior Saylor Clark helped out with three receptions for 46 yards, while classmate Ashton Boyd had a key 17-yard catch for a first down. The Admiral defense kept highly-recruited Tray Curry bottled up all night with double coverage.
Defensively, Bradley was led by senior safety Tucker Still and junior linebacker Kam Arrowood with 10 total hits apiece. Still made eight solo tackles and a had pair of assists, while Arrowood took down seven ball carriers by himself and helped out on a trio of other tackles.
Senior cornerback Davion Horton picked off a pair of interceptions, the first leading to a Bear touchdown five plays later. The other he returned 64 yards, but a penalty negated the good field position.
"Davion got two interceptions, and return the second one inside the (Farragut) 15, but we have a peel back block penalty 20 yards behind him. That puts us on our own 36 and we weren't able to score off it. Penalties killed us," bemoaned Coach Floyd.
After turning the ball over eight times against the Admirals in a 34-0 loss to open last season, Bradley was able to cut that number in half (two interceptions, two lost fumbles), but it wasn't enough.
"You can't give a team like Farragut extra chances," the Bear coach commented earlier this week.
The boys from Knoxville turned the first three miscues into points and the final one came on a desperation fourth-down play that allowed the visitors to take a knee twice to run out the clock.
"We throw one behind the line of scrimmage that's ruled a lateral and a fumble. They (Farragut) pick it up and run it back to the 2 (yard line) and get 7 (points) off it," Floyd said.
"You've got to give Farragut a lot of credit. The way their kids hung in there and battled and didn't bow their heads. I felt like we should have been up 35-7 at the half, but our mistakes hurt us.
"They (Farragut) came out in the second half and took it to us. We should learn something from that about their character. That's why their program is where it's at. Very well coached with tough kids that don't give up," he assessed.
"We lost our composure out there a lot, including myself. We gave it away. We need to get better.
"We didn't know who was going to be their running back, but he (Matt White) runs hard," remarked Floyd of the 6-foot, 180-pounder who normally plays wide receiver, finished with 175 yards and a pair of TDs on 26 carries.
"We had some shots in the backfield and we didn't make the tackles. You hope to make those tackles when you get in untouched."
J.V. Bears Lasso Stangs
By Staff Reports:
The JV Bears took the wagon train up to the Corral at Walker Valley High School on a sultry Labor Day and lassoed a victory over the Mustangs in a workmanlike fashion 27 - 6. The Bear’s defense would lead the way with three fourth down stops and two takeaways, keeping the Mustang offense at a slow trot throughout the game.
The Bears would take the opening kickoff and drive 60 yards on six plays to take the lead over the Mustangs. The drive would start with a 32 yard run by Riley Harmon and included a screen pass by freshman Jacob Hutcheson to sophomore Destin Thomas on 4th down and 6 to move the ball to the one yard line. Riley Harmon would take the one yard plunge into the endzone to put the Bears up 6-0 as the Era Rojas kick failed on a bad snap.
After a three and out from the defense the Bears would force a punt and take the ball on their own 39 yard line. After big runs by Carter Clayton and Gage Anderson, Riley Harmon would scamper another 16 yards to the Walker Valley 14 yard line. The Bears would get no closer and turn it over on downs unable to convert on 4th down.
The Bears’ defense would come up big on the second play of the next series as a Walker Valley fumble would be recovered by freshman Taylor Duggan at the Walker Valley 20 yard line. However the Mustang defense would hold and the Bears would turn the ball over on downs at the 12 yard line.
The Mustangs would take over and again the Bears’ defense came up with a turnover as Thomas would pick-off a Mustang pass on 3rd and 10, returning it 12 yards to the Walker Valley 48 yard line. Unfortunately the ensuing Bears' drive would end on a fumble at the Walker Valley 15 yard line.
The Mustangs would take over and drive down to the 10 yard line right before the half. However, the Bears’ defense would bow its back with a great defensive stand and force Walker Valley to turn it over on downs. A great tackle by Harmon on 3rd and 1, along with a huge stop on 4th down by the defense led by freshman J.D. Kirkpatrick and sophomore Isiah Arnorld would send the Bears on top at the half leading the Mustangs 6-0.
Walker Valley would start the second half on offense and drive down to the Bears 35 yard line where the Bears would force another turnover on downs. Once again Kirkpatrick and Arnold along with Anderson would stuff the middle of the line to stop the Mustang threat. The Bears however, would turn the ball back over to the Mustangs on another fumble in Walker Valley territory.
The Bears’ special teams would get into the action after the defense held and forced a punt from the Mustangs. Thomas would field the ball at his own three yard line and return it 97 yards to paydirt. The Bears would convert the two point conversion on a Harmon run to extend the lead to 14-0 early in the 3rd Quarter.
Walker Valley would answer the long punt return with an 80 yard drive to cut the lead to 14-7.
Bradley would start the ensuing possession on its own 35 yard line and methodically drive down the field on hard runs by sophomore Carter Clayton and quarterback keepers by Hutcheson. Once again Harmon would cap the drive with a one yard plunge into the endzone. Freshman Ero Rojas would tack on the point after to make it 21-7 early in the 4th Quarter.
Walker Valleys next possession would once again come up short on downs. The Bears' defense continued to dominate as Harmon would tip a Mustang pass attempt on 4th down and 2. The Bears’ offense would take over on their own 48 yard line. A Hutch (Hutcheson) pass would connect with Duggan for a 12 yard gain to move the ball into Mustang territory. The Bears would then go into their four minute offense with runs by Clayton, Hutch, and freshman Knox Watson to move the ball inside the red zone. Hutch would then call his own number on the QB sneak only to fumble it, where Watson picked it up and finished the final 5 yards into the endzone for the 20 Yard touchdown play to go uo 27-6 late in the fourth quarter. The kick would fail as Rojas’ PAT hit the left upright.
Offensively for the Bears, Hutcheson was 7-17 for 71 yards and rushed for 33 yards on 5 carries. Harmon rushed for 81 yards on 10 carries and 2TD’s while Clayton rushed for 78 yards on 10 carries. Thomas had 5 receptions for 78 yards and Duggan had 2 receptions for 25 yards.
“I was proud of our offensive line consisting of Tucker Beshears, Caden Moore, Tyler Moore, Brody Morgan, Gabe Campbell and Elijah Patty. They opened up some big holes for our running game. We just have to get better at finishing those drives once we get into the red zone. We just can’t come up empty in those situations,” Coach Dills explained.
Defensively, the Bears were led by Watson with 14 tackles and (1 for a loss). Also for the Bears’ defense, Anderson had 7 tackles, Kirkpatrick had 5 tackles (1 for a loss) while Freshman Matthew Dionisio had 3 tackles and a QB sack. Thomas had 3 tackles and an interception to go along with his punt return for a touchdown.
“I am pleased with our defensive effort. Our guys got after it and made plays. The defensive front 7 really played with tenacity and got to the football. L.P. (Landon Price), Gage (Anderson), Knox (Watson), and Riley (Harmon) are tough to handle at the LB position,” praised Coach Dills. “Along with our front three, (Arnold, Kirkpatrick, Dionsio) we are very fast on the defensive side of the ball.”
The J.V. Bears will travel to Athen to take on the Cherokees of McMinn County nest Monday, September 9th at 6:00.
Bears Find Golden Nugget
By JOE CANNON
When it comes to the kicking game in high school, sometimes coaches have to go mining outside the gridiron to find what they are looking for.
That often leads them to the soccer pitch, which is where the Bradley Central coaches found a true golden nugget for this season.
"With (Clay) Shoemaker graduating after being our kicker for the last three years, we needed somebody to step in, so I went to a few soccer matches," explained veteran Bear special teams coach Keith Freeman.
"I noticed this kid taking all the penalty, corner and indirect kicks and doing a good job. He seemed to want the ball in the pressure situations. As a (football) kicker that's what you want.
Although he excelled on the pitch, Isaac Vaughan wasn't so sure about getting back on the gridiron.
"I played football in (Ocoee) middle school, but I suffered a dislocated hip and that ended that," the senior related. "I tried soccer my freshman year in high school and have been playing it ever since."
The left winger said he's "usually the one making the crossing passes for an assist, with others making the goals. "I had several assists last year, but I'm not sure how many."
Vaughan did put eight shots into the nets himself for the soccer Bears this past spring.
Although the football coaches were excited about him, Vaughan wasn't so sure about returning to the gridiron, so it took some convincing.
"I had him in my first period class, and we had a little relationship through his brother Ethan, who played football for us," explained Freeman, of his older brother who was a wide receiver for the Bears that had 24 catches for 411 yards and a trio of TDs last fall, before graduating in May.
"I talked to him (Isaac) about trying to kick for us and he wasn't interested at first, but I stuck with it and got him to agree to try kicking. He was a natural. I immediately texted Coach (Damon) Floyd to come see him."
"One day last spring, Freeman got him to kick into a net in the gym. I got a text to come immediately to see him kick," head coach Damon Floyd related. "Miguel (Armenta, the Bradley boys soccer coach) has always kept an eye for us for kickers and let us know about Isaac as well. He told us he'd be a good one.
"We stayed on him and begged him to come out. Eventually he did. Once he got out there the players rallied around him pretty quick and started to talk to him. It didn't take long before he began to like it."
Vaughan was also encourage to join the team by his girlfriend, Reagan Harrold, a top-notch soccer player for the Bearettes herself.
"She was really the one that convince me to do it," he related. "My friends are proud of me and my grandparents are impressed."
While the Bradley coaches and players were excited, there was someone that wasn't.
"My mom was worried about me playing football again. She told me to stay out of the way on kickoffs and not get hit by anyone," Isaac remarked. "I hang back on kickoffs, but if someone break through, I'm going to go over and try to tackle them."
Vaughan admits having 11 guys charging at him on extra points and field goals was a little scary at first.
"It messed with me a little at first, plus I was nervous kicking in front of that many people (a couple of thousand Bear Nation fans in the stands)," he related. "In soccer I took the penalty kicks and corner kicks, so having had that kind of pressure helped me.
"After the first few kicks though, the nervousness went away and I felt confident."
"He was a little hesitant at first, but now he's chomping to get out there and wants to be in that situation," assessed Coach Floyd.
The results speak for themselves as Vaughan has set a school record with 27 straight extra points in his 29-of-32 mark for the season. He has also split the uprights on a pair of field goals from 27 and 32 yards.
"I didn't know I had set a record until I saw it in the paper that I had 23 in a row," stated Vaughan, who had the streak snapped at 27 in last week's victory at Ooltewah. "I want to break that with more than 27 straight the rest of the season.
"I also want to break the record for most extra points in a game. I've had seven three times this season, but the record is eight.
"I couldn't do it if it wasn't for our offense scoring so many touchdowns," he added as the Bears were the third highest scoring team (254 points) in the state going into Friday night's action.
Vaughan is also quick to give credit to his holder, Tucker Carpenter, and long snapper, Cody Cox. "Tucker has gotten the holds down perfectly and Cody has given us good snaps, so they make it easier for me."
While Coach Floyd is very confident in Vaughan's extra-point abilities, he also feels secure in his field goal abilities. "Right now we'd feel comfortable with him from about 42 yards in."
"I feel comfortable around 40 yards, but I think I could go 45 in a game. I've hit from 50-yards in practice," Vaughan assessed.
Although putting 35 points on the board (which he teases his older brother Ethan about outscoring him), splitting the uprights isn't his only contribution to the team's success.
"He's getting stronger and getting more distance on his kickoffs as well," remarked Coach Floyd. "Although he's not getting his kickoffs into the end zone, he kicks it so high, it allows us to get downfield for good coverage. That's huge for our cover team and gives us a very positive field position situation."
"On kickoffs, he can place the ball where we want it," added Coach Freeman. "He can manipulate the ball, kick it high so we can cover. We've been able to keep people inside the 30 for the most part. It puts our defense in a good position."
Both coaches praised Vaughan's work ethic and family.
"He comes from a good family and has very dedicated in practice, plus comes and works on his own quite a bit," the Bear coaches echoed.
A dual-enrollment senior, Vaughan will often work out between his college classes and returning to the Bradley campus for his high school classes.
"He'll work out for 20 or 30 minutes on his own between his classes," related Coach Freeman. "During the summer he came and worked out on his own a lot."
"He's more athletic than some people think because of his soccer background. His family is such great people, so we knew he'd be dependable," commented Coach Floyd.
"He's gotten some other soccer players out for us. We now have about five kickers that are working hard for us," Coach Freeman explained.
"He's a winner. He has a lot of confidence now and he wants the ball," added Freeman. "He's not afraid to fail, but he thinks he's going to make every kick, which is what you want. He's a big benefit to our team."
Looks like the Bear coaches didn't find pyrite, but a genuine gold nugget that has help the squad climb the AP ranking each week to its current No. 4 spot in Class 6A as the second half of the season is getting ready to start.
The J.V. concluded their season with a 28-12 victory over the Soddy Daisy Trojans to finish the season 6-1. Congrats to Coach Dills and the J.V. team on a great season.
The Bradley Bears defeated Soddy Daisy 49-35. The Bears will visit McMinn County for a chance to host a first round play-off game this Friday, Nov. 1st at 7:30.
Vols Come After Curry
By PATRICK MacCOON
Looking to aid its hopes of one day becoming a power in the Southeastern Conference again, Tennessee made the trip to Bradley Central High School Friday to visit with one of the state's most sought-after second-year standouts.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt and company know as well as any that winning recruits such as Tray Curry in the home state is as important as ever.
The Volunteers became the fifth Division-I offer for Curry, who also has Virginia, Virginia Tech, Arkansas and UTC after his talents.
"I am very humbled to be offered by Tennessee," the sophomore 6-foot-5, 210-pound two-sport standout said. "I've dreamed about these type of moments, but didn't think they would happen this early. Growing up, my family and I have always liked the Vols."
UT offensive line coach Will Friend came in to the Bears' stomping grounds to recruit a versatile player who could go one of two ways at the next level.
"I could see myself in college being both a deep threat wide receiver or a tight end, who can really stretch the field," he said. "I really like to watch Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins play at the professional level."
Watching those professional standouts, Curry also looks to break off defenders with pristine routes and have a vacuum for hands. His size and jumping ability makes him a major red-zone threat, as well.
Curry reeled in 51 catches for 562 yards and four touchdowns this past season despite being limited at times and sitting out one game due to a high-ankle sprain. He averaged nearly 70 total yards per game and also rushed for 101 yards and a score.
Maryville had a tough time containing the towering and powerful receiver, as he caught 10 passes for 120 yards and a score in a home loss to the state power in October.
At UTC's 7-on-7 scrimmage this past July, recently-named Akron football head coach Tom Arth and Mocs players raved about Curry.
Athleticism runs in the family as his older brother, KK (6-foot-7), was a former star basketball player at Cleveland High School and recently signed to play collegiate hoops for South Alabama
With a unique blend of size, athleticism and speed, Bradley Central will be a hub for many major collegiate programs to check in on the Class of 2021 playmaker.
The Big Orange have taken their shot, with many more expected to follow suit along the way.
Relentless Pride …….Honored Tradition
Bears Offense Rallies Past Trojans
By JOE CANNON
SODDY-DAISY — After being held scoreless and gaining just 59 yards in the opening 16 minutes, Bradley Central's potent offense finally got going last night, gaining more than 400 yards the rest of the way to turn a 21-point deficit into a 14-point victory.
"Our offense is very explosive and they pulled another one out," declared veteran head coach Damon Floyd after his ninth-ranked Bears put up 481 yards of offense to and rallied for a 49-35, non-region victory at Soddy-Daisy Thursday evening.
"It's frustrating the way we don't come out ready to play. It's kind of like we wait to see how good somebody is, and obviously Soddy is a very good team."
The Region 4-5A leading Trojans raced out to a quick two-touchdown lead in the first five minutes last night, plus built their advantage to 28-7 less than four minutes into the second frame, before the Bradley train got rolling to score 42 of the game's final 49 points.
Now 7-2 on the season and 4-1 in Region 2-6A, the Bears will turn their attention to next week's regular season finale against it's oldest rival — eighth-ranked McMinn County (8-0, 4-0).
The Cherokees have an important battle at No. 2 Maryville (8-0, 4-0) for the region title tonight. If the Tribe can upset the 17-time state champions, then they would be the 2-6A champs, regardless of outcome with Bradley. That would leave the Bears as the third seed, meaning they would have to open their 10th straight TSSAA Playoffs on the road.
However, if the highly-favored Rebels prevail this evening for the 124th time against a region opponent, then next Friday's tangle in Athens will be for the runner-up spot and the rite to host an opening-round postseason contest.
After Soddy-Daisy (5-4) needed just a half dozen plays to find the end zone on a seven-yard run by senior Hayden Maynor, the hosts got a second scoring chance after the first of three Bradley turnovers, recovering a fumble at the Bear 22 yard line.
Two plays later, Maynor, who finished with 189 yards on 24 touches and four scores, duplicated his seven-yard TD run.
Bradley started its second possession strong with a 25-yard run by junior quarterback Javin Burke, but was forced to punt six plays later.
The Black-and-Gold got a break when punter Braydon Clark put the ball inside the 5 yard line and the Trojan return man couldn't handle the catch. The pigskin bounded into the end zone, where Bear senior Trentavious Roberts was able to pounce on it for the first Bradley score.
After the teams traded punts, the Trojans were able to mount a 74-yard, eight play march, with sophomore QB Isaac Barnes hitting Maynor with a short pass that turned into a 16-yard TD.
Another Bear turnover set up the hosts for yet another score, when sophomore Landen Maynor picked off a pass at the Bradley 37. Three plays later Barnes found Kesean Eubanks for a 21-yard TD toss at the 8:04 mark of the second quarter.
Despite being frustrated and in a 28-7 hole, the Bear offense overcame a pair of 15-yard penalties on the ensuing possession to finally get on the board. Burke hit junior Tray Curry for a 17-yard score to cap a six-play, 66-yard drive, midway through the second frame.
The visitors were able to add another Curry score just before the half on a five-yard bull up the middle to cap another six -play march. This one covered 67 yards, including a 48-yard bomb from Burke to junior Kanon Hall on a third-and-11 play.
Receiving the second half kickoff, the Bears were able to continue their comeback, going 72 yards in 11 plays, with a one-yard sneak by Burke for the score.
Senior kicker Isaac Vaughan evened the score at 28-all with the fourth of his seven PATs on the evening.
It marked the fifth time this season, Vaughan, who has currently hit 21 straight, has come up just one short of the school record of eight extra point kicks in a game. The converted soccer player, holds the program's consecutive streak mark at 27 in a row earlier this season.
After the Burke score, Bradley executed a perfect onside kick, with Clark coming up with the ball at the Trojan 44. However, Clark was back on the field four plays later to once again send a punt inside the SD 5 yard line.
Despite being backed up against their own goalline, the Trojans were able to retake the lead with a 97-yard, nine play march with Hayden Maynor covering the final six yards to paydirt.
The teams then traded turnovers as Bradley lost its second fumble of the night, but two plays later Bear sophomore Aiden McClary picked off a pass.
Four plays later, Burke and Hall connected on another bomb, this one covering better than 50 yards in the air, with Hall spinning away from a would-be tackler as he made the catch and racing to the end zone to complete the 75-yard play.
Bradley quickly got another chance as senior Tucker Thompson, back after missing three games with an injury, picked off another Trojan aerial on the second play after the ensuing kickoff, to set the Bears up near midfield.
Electing to keep the ball on the ground, Bradley ran it 11 times with Burke once again punching it in from the 1 for the score with 8 1/2 minutes left in the contest.
The "Black Hole Defense," which held the hosts to less than half of their opening half production (221-110), once again rose to the occasion by forcing a fumble on a fourth-down attempt for a seven-yard loss.
Two plays later Curry, who finished with 185 yards on 25 touches, broke free for a 61-yard TD dash to cap the night's scoring.
"Tray (Curry) did a good job of filling in when Ricky (McCleary, the Bears starting running back who injured an ankle) went down in the second quarter," praised Coach Floyd of the Power 5 recruit with more than a dozen offers. "He showed why some many colleges are after him."
Hall also had a big night, adding to his team lead with 164 yards on a half dozen receptions. "Kanon (Hall) picked us up when Saylor (Clark, a key senior WR) went out (also with an injury)," commented Floyd.
Burke finished the night with 11 carries for 49 yards and a pair of scores, plus completed 10-of-16 passes for 191 yards and the long TD to Hall.
Return to his linebacker position, Thompson had a trio of solo tackles, a pair of assists, a sack and an interception, plus he batted a pass back to the Trojan QB, who caught it as Thompson immediately tackled him for a six-yard loss.
"It was good to see the 'Tuckers' back out there and playing hard," remarked Floyd, referring to the return of Thompson, plus fellow seniors Tucker Still and Tucker Carpenter (who missed last week's game due to injuries) to the defensive lineup.
Junior defensive end CJ Hardy paced the Bear defense with five solo tackles and four assists.