Bears fall to Admirals
By GARY OWNBEY
FARRGUT — The Bradley Central Bears opened the 2020 football season on the road against the Farragut Admirals in a game delayed on three different occasions due to lightning.
Once again the Bears came up short by a score of 25-21 in a game that ended near midnight. The Admirals extended their winning streak over the Bears to 12 in a row and improved their lead in the series 15-1.
Coach Damon Floyd led the Bears into enemy territory seeking to gain a little revenge after suffering two losses to the Admirals, including a season ending loss in the first round of the playoffs last year.
The Bears host the Mustangs of Walker Valley in their home opener Friday at Bear Stadium with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. The Mustangs (1-0) picked up a 39-0 season opening home victory over Cannon County when the Lions became a last minute opponent after Karns canceled their game at Walker Valley late Thursday.
Corona virus protocols mandated by Bradley County Schools will be in force, including social distancing inside Bear Stadium while everyone entering the gates must wear a mask and have their temperature checked before entering. Anyone with a temperature higher than 100.4 will not be allowed to enter.
Seating will be limited to 50% capacity as mandated by the TSSAA and the state of Tennessee so fans are encouraged to purchase season tickets or game-day tickets prior to Friday’s game or face the possibility that they will be turned away at the gate.
Last year’s Bear offense set a record by averaging 41.0 points per game. This year’s team hoped to pick up at that point, but an injury to Bear quarterback Javin Burke threw an unexpected twist into the Bradley offensive machine when the senior failed to return after an injury near end of the first half.
Junior backup quarterback Aiden McClary proved to be a worthy backup as he responded with a very strong performance and led the Bears on the field like a seasoned veteran.
“Aiden was a very capable replacement and was prepared to lead the team when his number was called,” Floyd commented. “It’s frustrating being on the road, but it is what it is and you have to deal with it.”
The opening kickoff was delayed about 20 minutes when lightning in the area forced the teams and fans out of the stadium resulting in what would become the first of three different delays.
When it looked as if the teams and fans would finally get ready to kick off the season that some doubted would ever be played, Mother Nature stepped in again at the 9:19 mark of the opening quarter to force a second lightning delay.
“I think the delays affected us some but it was the same for both teams,” related Floyd in a post-game interview. “We made some mistakes that we need to clean up, but we’ll move on and get ready for a big game with Walker Valley next Friday.”
The teams and fans were once again vacated from the stadium with a second delay lasting approximately 45 minutes. Returning to the field after another warm-up session, the Bears and Admirals were again stymied before a single snap could take place for the third and final delay of the night.
The Bears won the opening coin toss but deferred to the second half. After forcing the Admirals into a punt situation, the Bears were set up in perfect field position at the Admirals' 27-yard line after the Farragut punter botched the snap and was stopped short of a first down.
Following the second delay of the night, the Bears couldn’t capitalize on their lucky break and the Admirals took over at their 19-yard line. The hosts sailed down the field for the first score of the night at 6:44 in the period.
Their drive was highlighted by senior running back Eli Purcell’s 69-yard scamper to the Bear 7-yard line where senior Alex Taylor toted the pigskin into the end zone with the PAT giving the Admirals a 7-0 lead.
The Bears quickly fought back to tie the score with Burke laying a perfect spiral into the out-stretched arms of senior wide receiver Kannon Hall for a 33-yard score. Sophomore Era Rojas tacked on the first PAT of the season for the Bears and the teams were deadlocked at the 5:31 mark of the first quarter.
The Admirals started their next possession at their 49-yard line and moved quickly down the field in five plays for their second score. Purcell scored on a 3-yard scamper after a 36-yard pass from junior quarterback Dawson Moore to Matt White set the Admirals up with a first-and-goal. The point after at 11:17 in the half regained the lead for the Admirals at 14-7.
The next Bear scoring drive covered 99-yards after a 55-yard punt for the Admiral put the Bears in precarious territory at their own 1-yard line. With Burke working his magic on third down from their own 2-yard line, he ripped off a 35-yard gainer for a first down to keep the Bears moving.
The Bears were not to be denied after Burke went down with his injury on the drive. With his twin brother, senior running back Javon Burke, and freshman Jackson Wilson sharing the ball-carrying duties, the Bears marched down the field with McClary gaining the final five yards to paydirt at 3:31 in the half. Rojas’ point after knotted the score at 14-14 as half-time neared.
Burke’s injury to his non-throwing shoulder will need to be evaluated, according to Floyd.
After a 21-yard field goal pushed the Admirals into the lead at 7:42 in the third, the Bears responded to take their first lead of the night with an 8-play, 73-yard drive. Wilson picked up the first touchdown of his young career with a 1-yard score behind great blocking from the Bear offensive line. The score and Rojas’ PAT gave the Bears their first lead of the game at 21-17.
“I was pleased for the most part with our offensive line and I thought our defense got better as the game progressed,” Floyd stated.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Bears backed up deep in their own territory, a penalty against the Bears for intentional grounding resulted in an automatic safety for the Admirals bringing them closer to the Bears at 21-19 with 11:11 still to go.
While Javon Burke became the workhorse out of the backfield for the Bears, gained 41 yards in three plays on the drive, the Bears were hit with back-to-back penalties forcing them to punt the ball away.
“I thought our running game was good for the most part, but we’ve got to catch those passes that we dropped,” Floyd continued.
The Admirals took over at their 5-yard line after a Braydon Clark punt and began the decisive drive of the night. An 11-play, 95-yard drive resulted in the go-ahead touchdown at the 4:51 mark with Dion Williams regaining the lead for the Admirals on a 7-yard run. A two-point conversion attempt failed and the Admirals led 25-21.
The Admirals were able to stop the Bears on their next possession and began to grind it out on the ground to hold off the Bears to clinch the win.
Offensively the Bears were outgained 350 yards to 230 yards with the Admirals running 68 plays to the Bears 54.
With Javin Burke and McClary sharing quartering duties, the Bears were a combined 5 of 10 in the passing game for 85 yards. On the ground the Bears picked up 145 yards with the Burke brothers accounting for 128 yards on 18 carries and Wilson adding 32 as his number was called 10 times.
Braydon Clark punted six times for a 30-yard average. The Bears sustained 98 yards in penalties while being flagged on 11 occasions.
Kannon Hall was the recipient on all five Bear passing plays for 85 yards. The Admirals were successful on nine of 13 passing attempts for 133 yards. Farragut led the Bears in first downs by a count of 18-11 while both teams had three fumbles each and lost one apiece.
Defensively the Bears had 17 different players involved in tackles with Camden Creighton accounting for 10 (6/4). Senior Kins Hooped, who was sidelined by an injury last season, picked up seven (5/2) including a sack and a tackle-for-loss play.
“We’ve got to put this behind us and get ready for our home opener next week,” concluded Floyd.
Bears Round Up Mustangs
By JOE CANNON
Walker Valley stampeded into Bear Stadium Thursday night and smacked 12th-ranked Bradley Central right between the eyes, but the burly bruins took the repeated shots and battled back to claim a classic "County Conflict" victory.
"We'll take it. We're not very happy. It's my fault — I've got to have them ready to play. We came out and got punched in the mouth," proclaimed veteran "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd moments after the narrow 37-34 victory over the northside Herd.
"They got physical with us early and we made a few mistakes. That's on coaching. We got beat by a very good Farragut team last week, but we didn't get out 'physicalled,' but we did tonight and that's frustrating."
After the Stallions raced to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter, the Bears woke up and put 24 straight points on the scoreboard before the teams traded four touchdowns in the final frame of the battle.
A 26-yard field goal attempt as time ran out had plenty of leg but slipped just wide left, thwarting the visitors' hopes of overtime.
"That was a lot of fun. I'm so proud of our guys. There were so many times we could have laid down, but we didn't," proclaimed second-year Mustang wrangler Drew Akins. "I asked them to leave everything here and we did.
"We came out strong, but we knew they'd come back. We weren't quite ready to do the things we needed to do. Next time we're in this situation, we'll be ready.
"We're going to correct some things and come back to play a big region (4-5A) game next week," Akins said of the Mustangs (1-1) tangling with ninth-ranked Rhea County in Evensville next Friday. The Golden Eagles (1-0) face Jefferson County this evening.
Bradley (1-1) will also open Region 2-6A play with a trip to Maryville Heritage next Friday.
With the "County Conflict" moved up a night to avoid expected heavy rainfall tonight, Walker Valley, whose lone victory in 16 battles with the Bears came in 2014 by a 17-13 score, found the end zone on its first two offensive possessions.
Finally getting his chance for a varsity start in Bear Stadium, senior QB Tucker Pope put on a show, put up 425 yards of Walker Valley's 465 yards of total offense himself.
The former Bear backup signal caller carried the ball 20 times for 115 yards, scoring twice, plus completed 19-of-26 passes for 310 yards and two TDs.
His first scoring toss came on a 25-yard connection with favorite target Brody Swafford for 25 yards for the game's lone opening-quarter score. Swafford snagged eight aerials for 142 yards and a pair of scores in the contest.
Pope took the ball in himself from the 5-yard line to cap the following Mustang possession on the first play of the second frame.
The Mustang defense forced a trio of punts and a turnover, caused by Spencer Jackson and recovered by Eli Denton, in the first four Bear offensive tries.
With the hosts' backed up on their own 7 yard line and forced to punt, the visitors picked up their third score of the evening when Denton swatted the ball up in the air on the kick and then pounced on it in the end zone for a touchdown with 5:19 left in the opening half.
The turnover got the Bears' attention and after the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds giving them the ball at their own 35, needed just five plays to find paydirt.
New Bear starting QB Aiden McClary connected with senior Kanon Hall for a 16-yard strike with 3:28 on the clock to start the momentum shift. Hall pulled in 11 catches for 152 yards on the night.
After forcing a three-and-out, Bradley put together a 13-play scoring drive in the final two minutes of the half.
Starting on their own 13, the Bears ran the ball just twice as McClary completed 7-of-9 passes on the march. Bradley was able to cash in with a 35-yard field goal by sophomore Era Rojas as the final seconds ticked away to cut the deficit to 21-10 at the break.
After forcing just the second Mustang punt of the night to open the second half, Bradley continued its rally with the "Jackson Wilson Show" debuting.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound freshman running back bolted 48 yards on the second Bear play of the third period for the first of his four touchdowns in the final 24 minutes.
"From the very first day he (Wilson) showed up, we knew this kid was going to be special," commented Coach Floyd. "He's a tough kid. A hard worker and a team guy. It's nice to know we have him for four years."
Two plays later, Bradley senior Javon Burke picked off the game's lone interception and came up just short of a "Pick 6" with a 27-yard return to set up Wilson's second score, this one from a yard out to give the hosts the lead (24-21) for the first time at the 7:24 mark of the third frame.
The score stayed the same until Walker Valley regained the edge with a 75-yard catch-and-run from Pope to Swafford on the second play of the final frame.
The Bears answered with a nine-play, 75-yard march with Wilson scampering in from 18 yards out to put the Black-and-Gold back up (31-28) with 7:43 left in the contest.
Unwilling to surrender, Pope led the Herd back downfield with four straight double-digit gains before finishing off the drive on a five-yard keeper for a 34-31 advantage with 6:08 showing.
Bradley once again rallied, going 81 yards in eight plays, including a 51-yard swing pass that Hall caught in the flat, spun a Mustang defender off and raced 51 yards before getting tripped up by his own blocker.
Wilson, who scored his first Bear TD last week in Knoxville, found the end zone for the fourth time on a one-yard plunge with 2:46 remaining in the game.
Once again, the Mustang offense made a final march, getting off 11 plays in the final 166 seconds to set up the potential game-tying field goal.
After Coach Floyd "iced" the WV kicker with back-to-back timeouts with just 4.8 seconds on the clock. The attempt was just off the mark allowing the Bears to escape with the victory.
"Our kids starting making plays midway through the second quarter. There were some subtle defensive adjustments that helped us and got the momentum going our way," Coach Floyd assessed.
"He (WV head coach Drew Akins) did a good job of taking advantage of some of the things we do defensively, so I give him credit. It's hard when you don't have a lot of film on somebody. It takes a minute to adjust.
"I'm happy the guys stuck together and pulled this one out. We've got to learn to play all four quarters," he declared.
Along with Wilson, who finished with 89 yards on 14 carries, Floyd also praised the effort of McClary.
"Aiden in a tough spot. You replace a guy (Javin Burke, see related story this section) that's all-state, that's going to Virginia, so the pressure is on him.
"I thought he did pretty good. He missed a few passes early on, but did a great job of settling in there. He's a competitor; he's a huge part of this team. He's been a starter at safety and now he's going to lead us as our quarterback," he said of the 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior who completed 20-of-26 passes for 222 yards.
Javon Burke gained 83 yards on 13 touches, while senior Braydon Clark pulled in five passes for 47 yards.
The Bear defense was led by Riley Harmon (7 solos, 2 assists, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery), Cam Creighton (4 solos, 4 ast., 2 TFL), Braydon Clark (6 solos), Trentavious Roberts (5 solos, 1 ast.), Gage Anderson (5 solos, 1 ast., 2 TFL) and Kins Hooper (2 solos, 6 asts., 1 TFL).
"It was a good rivalry game. Coach Akins has done a great job of turning that program around," commented Coach Floyd.
Along with Pope and Swafford's tallies, Mustang Spencer Jackson added 87 yards on eight touches.
Denton (10 solos, 4 assists), Kallum Lowe (10 solos, 3 asts., 2 TFL), Dylan Jenkins (10 solos, 2 asts.) and Kyler Tjaarda (6 solos, 5 ast., 3 TFL) led the Mustang defensive effort with double-digit tackles.
"We've got to learn from this. Our bodies weren't prepared for the grind of this. If we want to win ballgames like this we have to be able to go the whole four quarters," stated Coach Akins.
"Everything is still ahead of us. We're going to put this behind us and get ready for what's ahead of us."
Game photo link can be found in Media Drop Down
Bradley Bears defeated the Ooltewah Owls 45 - 7 at Bear Stadium
Bradley JV defeated the Ooltewah JV 14 -8 at Bear Stadium
Bradley will travel to Cleveland High to face the Raiders Friday, Oct. 2nd at 7:30
The Bradley JV will host the Cleveland Raiders at Bear Stadium Monday, Oct 5th at 6:00.
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.
Bears adjust to unexpected situations
By JOE CANNON
"But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!"
What Robert Frost wrote in 1785 is still appropriate today — just ask the 2020 Bradley Central Bears.
The Scots-language poem is commonly translated as "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
Despite having to deal with the unexpected and unavoidable COVID-19 pandemic precautions, Bear Nation had plenty to be excited about for this year's team.
A trio of NCAA Division I recruits to lead the way, plus several other players that are getting collegiate looks.
However, before the heat of July passed, an all-state player was no longer on the team.
After the many questions about whether the campaign would even take place, midway through the second quarter of the season opener, another was lost for the year to a freak injury.
But alas, there is no "I" in team, so the show must go on.
"We've always stressed a 'Next Man Up' mentality. That's what we'll do," related Damon Floyd, who is in his 15th season as the "Papa Bear."
"You can't let things like that get you down. You hate it (the injury) for the player, especially someone like Javin (Burke), who has worked so hard, but that just gives someone else an opportunity to step up and show what they can do."
Before real practice began, stepbrothers Javin Burke and Tray Curry were highly touted as two of the best in the state, with each choosing from 15-plus top collegiate offers before committing to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference at the next level.
Curry announced he was going to Tennessee in May but changed his plans and went with Virginia Tech in July. Two days later he was dismissed from the Bear squad. Choosing to keep the details of the situation in-house, Floyd declared, "All I'll say is he is no longer a part of this team."
Burke, who chose the University of Virginia for his future plans, continued his quest and was primed for a standout senior season. However, while trying to block for his twin brother Javon on a pitch play, he landed awkwardly and tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, which required season-ending surgery.
The two stars accounted for 4,217 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, including 566 yards and seven scores when they hooked up on pass plays.
Already having to replace several key graduates from last year's 7-4 playoff squad, the unexpected void left a vast chasm — but there are plenty of anxious Bears willing to fill the gap.
In the first two games (the season's third game was played between the printing of this special section and its distribution) several bright spots have shone:
• Last year's leading receiver, senior Kanon Hall, has 16 receptions for 237 yards and a pair of scores in the first two contests.
• Freshman Jackson Wilson has hit the ground running for 121 yards and five TDs, including four in the exciting 37-34 victory over Walker Valley in the home opener.
• Speedy two-way senior Javon Burke not only has 115 yards on just 18 carries (6.4 ypc), but also snatched an interception and came within inches of turning it into a 28-yard "Pick 6."
• Linebacker Kins Hooper, who missed last season with an injury, has returned as a team captain, having notched 14 tackles, including a sack and a TFL.
• UT-Martin commit CJ Hardy has been wreaking havoc from his defensive end position with eight total hits, including a pair behind the line of scrimmage.
• Junior Aiden McClary has stepped over from his starting safety position to take over as the new starting signal caller. He has completed 21-of-32 passes for 260 yards, throwing for one TD and rushing for another.
• Senior captains Camden Creighton and Braydon Clark are leading the defense, with the duo being in on 23 tackles, plus Clark also caught five passes for 45 yards in the Bear victory.
Several others are taking up the mantle as well and are ready for their time to lead the Bears.
After suffering yet another heartbreaking loss to state-ranked Farragut in the season opener, Bradley bounced back to overcome a 21-point deficit to cross-county rival Walker Valley for a hard-fought victory in the home opener 10 days ago.
Ranked 12th in the first two AP state prep polls of the season, Bradley (1-1) opened Region 2-6A play Friday at Maryville Heritage.
The Bears will be home the next two weeks to battle Bearden (Sept. 11) and Ooltewah (Sept. 18), then after a week off go across town for the annual "Clash" with archrival Cleveland High (Oct. 1).
Bradley will host 17-time state champion Maryville (Oct. 8) before making the trip to William Blount (Oct. 16). The Bears will finish off the regular season with back-to-back home games against Soddy-Daisy (Oct. 23) and their oldest nemesis McMinn County (Oct. 30).
"Maryville is still 'the team' until somebody knocks them off," Floyd said of the Rebels who have won 125 region games in a row, dating back to 2000. The defending state champs are currently ranked No. 2 in the AP Class 6A poll, just seven points behind Murfreesboro Oakland, which was the last team to beat them in the 2018 state semifinals.
Coach Bo Cagle's McMinn County Cherokees are off to a 2-0 start and moved from sixth to fourth in this week's state poll.
The Tribe features Western Carolina commit Jalen Hunt, a lighting quick running back, and highly sought-after 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman Bryce Goodner, who has committed to Virginia Tech.
"McMinn was really good last year and have big part of their offense back," explained Floyd.
"The rest of the playoff spots are going to be a dogfight between us, Cleveland, Ooltewah and William Blount — Blount made the playoffs last year for the first time in a long time and have a lot of people back.
"All four of our non-region games are against playoff teams as well. We have a tough schedule, but that's how we're going to get better," he added.
Although the Bear offense doesn’t have the majority of last year’s record-setting (averaging 41 points per game) weapons, they have put 58 points on the scoreboard in the first two games this season.
Having to step into Javin Burke’s “gold” shoes, McClary is making the adjustment from backup to being “the man.”
"Aiden (McClary) has come in and done a very good job. Having him focus all his attention on quarterback will help," Coach Floyd said of his former starting free safety. "Aiden has a different skill set at quarterback than Javin. He doesn't throw as deep, but he throws a good ball. He's also fast and can hurt you with his feet. We'll play to his strengths."
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior has shown he is very capable of leading the still potent Bradley offense.
Javon Burke and Wilson have proven more than capable of taking over the main ball carrying responsibilities.
One of the fastest Bears ever, according to Coach Floyd, Javon is also capable of splitting out to a receiver position.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder has draw college offers from Appalachain State, UTC, Western Carolina, Tennessee State, UT-Martin, Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky, plus has been invited to play in the Hawaii Tiki Bowl, a national showcase game for high school seniors.
The track sprinter averaged 7.2 yards a touch last season with 261 yards on 38 tries.
“Javon has the speed to take it to the house at any time,” Floyd related. “He’s gotten a lot stronger. He has speed, he’s elusive and can run between the tackles. All he needs is a crease to make something positive happen.”
Wilson dominated the middle school action the last couple of years for Lake Forest and impressed the Bear coaches from the get-go.
“He has the potential to be one of the best ever here,” proclaimed Floyd. “He came in with a great work ethic and attitude and is a very hard worker.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound freshman has shined bright under the Friday Night Lights so far.
“We are really excited about his future with us the next four years,” the veteran mentor beamed.
Although Riley Harmon will see the majority of his action on defense, especially with McClary having to switch sides, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior averaged just under nine yards a carry (152 on 17 rushes, 4 TDs) in limited use as a ball carrier last season.
“Riley has really good speed and is a hard-nosed kid that doesn’t mind contact,” Floyd said of former Bear great and Tennessee Vol All-American Chris White's nephew.
Averaging 21 yards per catch in 2019, Hall once again leads the receiving corps with 825 yards on 38 receptions, scoring eight times.
“He’s our 'go-to guy.' He is the most athletic player on the team — he has really good speed and is a very good route runner. He’s able to make things happen after he catches the ball, as well,” commented Floyd of the 5-foot-9, 165-pound speedster.
Senior captain Braydon Clark (5-foot-11, 190) will be doing double duty as a linebacker/defensive back, plus stepping into a starting wide receiver role, as well.
“Braydon’s athletic and fast. He could have a break out season for us,” declared the Bear head coach.
Senior Donye Upton (5-foot-7, 155), sophomores Taylor Duggan (5-foot-7, 150) and Finn Mertens (5-foot-9, 160), plus freshman Marcus Goree Jr. (6-foot-1, 165) will also see time at receiver on Friday nights.
"Upton isn't very big, but he can fly — he's a vertical threat," the Bear coach expressed. "Duggan, Goree and Mertens will get a lot of reps on Fridays."
Juniors Karter Howard (6-foot-3, 225) and Josh Helsdon (6-foot-4, 245) give the Bears big options at tight end this season.
"Karter could play O-line in college. He's a good blocker and has good hands. He's a three-sport guy that we feel we can take advantage of his size in our passing game," related Floyd.
"Helsdon is a home-school kid and this is the first year he's ever played. We could go to a double tight end set some this year."
With only one returning starter along the offensive line, the Bradley front is having to grow up quickly.
Senior captain Bennett Burris (5-foot-10, 230) will anchor the trenches at right guard and will be looked to in teaching the newcomers in the Bear way.
"He's a leader," proclaimed Floyd. "He lives in the weight room and has gotten stronger. He will take charge of our younger linemen."
Senior Caden Moore (6-foot-2, 330) will be at the other guard position, with junior Tucker Beshears (6-foot-2, 250) squeezed in between at center.
"Moore is a big kid that stays in the weight room. Beshears has good size, is a hard worker and a bright kid — there's a lot on him to make calls and adjustments for the line," the Bear mentor stated.
Bookending the line at tackle will be junior Gabe Campbell (6-foot-2, 265) on the left and sophomore Brody Morgan (5-foot-11, 225) opposite him.
"Campbell has really good footwork, really good hands and good size. He has a chance to play at the next level. He will protect the blindside," proclaimed Floyd.
"Morgan started two or three games last year. He's very intense and has the O-line mentality. He gets after it on every play. He reminds me of CJ Dills."
Junior linemen Brayden Owens (5-foot-10, 265), Tyler Moore (6-foot, 230) and Alex Dayton (5-foot-11, 210) will help out as needed.
As many as seven different linemen will see action for the Bear D-line.
After being in on 41 tackles, including three for loss and a pair of QB sacks, Hardy returns for his second season at Bradley.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound defensive end has already committed to UT-Martin and is ready for a breakout season.
"His best days are ahead of him," declared Floyd. "He came to us late last year, just before the season, and it took him a while to learn our system and what we wanted him to do. Now having been with us a full year, he is ready to go. He has the size and athleticism to be really special."
Either junior Isaiah Arnold (6-foot, 255) or senior Brandon Cruz (5-foot-11, 195) will be on the other side.
"Cruz started last year and can play any spot on the D-line. Arnold would have been a starter last year but he broke his leg in two places. He runs good, has good size and a God-given ability with his speed and hands," the coach assessed.
Helsdon and senior Cody McDaniel (5-foot-10, 180) will also see action on the outside.
Clogging things up in the middle will be junior Nadavien Richards (5-foot-9, 250) and senior Ike Phanor (5-foot-9, 205).
"Both of those guys are starters, they'll rotate," explained Floyd. "Richards is really strong and hard to move; he'll keep the blockers off our linebackers. Ike was a running back; he will give opponents problems with his speed."
The middle of the defense is strong with the return of Hooper (6-foot, 200) and Creighton (5-foot-9, 185).
"It's very nice to have Kins back. His speed is right where it was," stated Floyd of his "Sam" linebacker. "He's physical. He loves contact. He's an emotional leader."
At "Will" LB, Creighton is the top returning tackler from last season, having been in on 70 total hits, with 47 solos, eight TFLs, a sack and four takeaways.
"He's really smart and real disciplined," the coach assessed. "He reads keys and gets us in the right spots. He reads formations really well."
On the outside, sophomores Gage Anderson (6-foot-1, 205) and JD Kirkpatrick 6-foot, 195) will patrol.
"Anderson is physically gifted — he has size, speed and strength," Floyd explained. "He played a lot as a freshman last season until he had a knee injury.
"JD has really good size and speed," the coach added. "He can do a number of different things to help us — he's a ball player."
Wilson will back up the outside linebacker slots, while Knox Watson (5-foot-10, 175) and Landon Price (5-foot-7, 175) will help out in the middle.
"We have no problem putting either one of them in. They will see a lot of reps on Friday nights," proclaimed Floyd.
With the graduation of leading tackler Tucker Still and McClary shifting to the other side of the line, the secondary is a work in progress for the Bears.
Seniors Trentavious Roberts and Javon Burke are returning starters on the corners, with Goree and Mertens working into the mix, as well. All will do double duty by also playing offense.
"'Rango' (Roberts) is a good cover corner," Floyd praised. "He's long and has good speed. Javon's speed really helps him.
"Goree could be a future college prospect. He and Finn are both long and fast, athletic kids."
Moving from linebacker to the last line of defense, Clark shifts from linebacker to strong safety.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder was in on 29 tackles last season with 16 solos, a trio of QB sacks and two others for loss, plus had a nose for the ball with a half-dozen takeaways.
After starting at OLB some last year, Harmon will help out there as well as in the secondary this season. He also had 29 total tackles in 2019, with 18 solos and one for loss.
Hall, Duggan and freshman Tito Williams (6-foot, 165) will help out deep, as well.
Stepping into the big shoes of one-year wonder Isaac Vaughn, who connected on 52 extra points and a trio of field goals last season, will be fellow soccer standout Era Rojas.
The sophomore has been true on 7-of-8 PATs and booted a 35-yard field goal in the first two games of the campaign.
"Rojas has been the most consistent with (fellow sophomore) Grant Haney right there with him," remarked Floyd.
Clark returns as the punter, with Wilson pushing him. "It's been a good competition in practice," commented the coach.
Javon Burke and Hall are taking care of the return duties, having gained 95 yards in their first five tries this season.
Head coach: Damon Floyd (92-72), 15th year; Assistants: Matt Moody (OC), Keith Freeman (STC), Scott Ford, Shane Blalock, Blake Gideon, Todd Stevison, Daniel Hearn, Easton Clark, Todd Burkhart, Buck Watson, Garrett Payne, Colby Dills and Brett Standifer and David Phillips; and Chaplain: Mikey Clark.
Young Bears lead mauling of Mountaineers
By JOE CANNON
MARYVILLE — After struggling some in the first two games, 12th-ranked Bradley Central put it all together Friday evening for a convincing win over an outmanned Heritage squad.
"We had more speed and more talent, but most importantly we came ready to play. We executed better than we did in the first two games. We did what we needed to do," commented veteran head coach Damon Floyd after the 42-7 "running clock" victory.
"We still made a few mistakes and had a few missed tackles, but we're getting better."
Bradley started three freshmen, including Jackson Wilson staying hot to open his prep career, notching another 105 yards and a trio of TDs. In his first three high school varsity games, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has rushed for 226 yards on 39 carries, eight of which have found the end zone.
"We haven't had a freshman make such an immediate impact since Bryce Copeland," declared Coach Floyd, who is in his 15th season at the Bear helm.
Copeland took over the starting QB duties in the second game of the 2009 season, connecting on 53-of-96 aerials for 642 yards, with seven touchdowns in leading the Bears to their first non-below .500 record in nine seasons.
Bradley's other two starting ninth-graders Friday were Marcus Goree Jr. and Tito Williams, who teamed up at the safety positions and were in on several big defensive plays, with Goree picking off a Mountaineer pass.
The Bears (2-1, 1-0 Region 2-6A) will return home Friday as Bearden comes calling. After having their season start delayed, the Bulldogs (0-1) were finally able to kickoff their campaign two nights ago, making a trip to Kingsport to face fifth-ranked Dobyns-Bennett (3-0) and coming out on the short end of a 40-7 tally.
Bradley scored on their first two offensive possessions at Heritage.
After the Bear defense forced a three-and-out on the game's opening drive, Wilson capped a seven-play, 51-yard march with a one-yard plunge to paydirt. The score was set up by a 32-yard catch-and-run by senior Kanon Hall to get the ball to the Mountaineer 6.
Sophomore Xavier Ortiz came on to boot the first of his six extra points in his varsity debut at the 7:12 mark of the opening quarter.
"(Era) Rojas (who had made 7-of-8 PATs to open the season, plus booted a 35-yard field goal) has a slight muscle pull, so we used Ortiz and he did great," praised Coach Floyd. "We have a group of five kickers, all sophomores, who we feel confident in. They are pretty close in accuracy, but Rojas has the strongest leg."
After another three-and-out by the Bear D, the visitors needed just five plays to score again with junior QB Aiden McClary leading Hall perfectly for an over-the-shoulder, in-stride catch on a 38-yard TD toss to complete the 69-yard march. The speedy receiver finished with four catches for 90 yards and now has four scores on the season.
Heritage (0-3, 0-1) answered with a 10-play drive, covering 76 yards for its lone score of the evening. Senior QB Zach Hollman hit Isaiah Thomas with a one-yard toss for the TD on the third play of the second frame.
After the teams traded punts, Bradley put together its longest drive of the night, marching from its own 8 yard line to the end zone in just eight plays.
Wilson chewed up 56 of those yards on five carries, three of which went for double-digit yardage, including a four-yard scamper for the score with just 2:44 left on the first half clock.
Senior Javon Burke, who posted 157 yards on 16 touches in the contest, took care of the rest of the yards on a trio of tries, including a 10-yard reception and a 22-yard run.
"We moved Javon around some (12 rushes for 68 yards, four receptions for 89) to get him the ball more," Floyd related. "He can lineup at running back, in the slot or wide. We want to get the ball in his hands in different ways."
For the second week in a row, the Bears were able to get a score at the halftime buzzer. With Goree's "pick" setting the Black-and-Gold up at their own 28, McClary hit Burke with a short pass that the speedster turned into a 54-yard gain, moving the ball to the Mountaineer 14 with just two seconds left on the clock.
After both teams called back-to-back timeouts, McClary hit Hall on a "Montana-to-Clark" type pass as the senior receiver went up high to pull the ball out of the air just inside the goal line as the horn blared.
The visitors added a score in each of the two final quarters, coming out of the intermission with a 46-yard crossing pass from McClary to senior Braydon Clark, who refused to go down on a 49-yard gain.
Nine plays later, Wilson scooted in from the 3, with Ortiz tacking on the extra point 4:38 into the second half.
After the Bear defense forced Heritage to turn the ball over on downs on their next two possessions, the Bradley offense made its final scoring trek.
Going 84 yards on a dozen plays, junior Carter Clayton did the honors from eight yards out to trigger the "running clock" with 5:34 remaining.
In just his second varsity start at QB, McClary, who took over for injured Virginia commit Javin Burke in the first half of the season opener, had another solid outing.
"Aiden went 12-of-15 and those three incompletes were perfect passes, but the receivers dropped them," expressed Floyd.
"Coach (Matt) Moody (the Bear offensvie coordinator) has done a good job of adapting our offense to Aiden's abilities. He's (McClary) putting the ball on the money.
"We know he's in a tough position, but the team is rallying around him and we're going to battle right along with him. He's a tremendous (three-sport) athlete and can really play," the "Papa Bear" assessed.
The Bear offense was very balanced, with 39 carries for 225 yards, plus gaining 230 through the air on McClary's completions.
The Bradley D allowed the hosts just 220 yards of total offense.
Goree led the Bear attack with a half-dozen solo tackles, an assist, plus his "pick."
Inside linebackers and team captains Cam Creighton and Kins Hooper were both in on five tackles, while Riley Harmon had four, plus an assist.
Bears Bite Bulldogs in 'Big Boy Battle'
By JOE CANNON
Battling in what veteran coach Damon Floyd called "big boy football," Bradley Central got a pair of 100-plus yard rushing performances to hold off a determined Bearden squad Friday night.
"We're excited to get the win. Bearden is a tough, physical team and has always had a good program," he said after a second-half rally for a 35-20 victory.
"Anytime you can play 'big boy football' (Class 6A) this is what you are going to get every Friday night. I'm just glad to see our kids keep hanging in there and keep battling. It was very physical tonight."
Already having to adjust to Virginia commit Javin Burke being lost for the season two quarters into the campaign, Bear Nation is holding it's collective breath to see about freshman sensation Jackson Wilson, who was knocked out of the game during the opening series Friday.
"You hate to see Jackson Wilson go down (shoulder injury). He'll get an MRI tomorrow (Saturday) to see how bad it is," Floyd said of the 6-foot-1, 195-pound running back who had 226 yards, plus found the end zone eight times in the first three games.
Wilson carried the ball four times for 17 yards in the opening half dozen plays before going to the sideline Friday and not returning as his shoulder was iced and he was in street clothes for the second half.
Seniors Javon Burke and Riley Harmon picked up the rushing slack, both carrying the ball 14 times while combining for 258 of the 288-yard Bear ground attack.
Burke, who had 157 yards of total offense the week before at Heritage, went off for 146 yards and a pair of scores, plus he caught three passes for another 31 and a TD.
After getting stuffed for a 2-yard loss in his only carry of the opening half, Harmon bounced back for 114 yards in the final two frames, including a half dozen runs that went for double-digit gains.
"Javon and Riley both stepped up tonight," praised Coach Floyd. "The offensive line did a great job of opening holes for them and they made some very big plays.
"Javon has been doing it all season long, both rushing and receiving, and Riley got an opportunity tonight, stepped in and made the most of it."
"The thing I really appreciate about Riley is the fact that even though everything has not gone his way, he's stayed right there and is willing to do whatever the coaches ask and is going to give his all for the team," the Bear mentor commented of the 5-foot-9, 165-pounder.
"You never know when your chance is going to come. Riley's a guy that shows up everyday, never complains and is ready to go when given the opportunity. He's got really good speed and he'll get more chances in the backfield."
Also the team's defensive coordinator, Floyd was pleased with his side of the ball.
"Defense played well. We made a few mistakes, but overall we played a very good game defensively. We put pressure on their passing game and came away with a couple of picks (by freshmen Marcus Goree and Tito Williams) and even though we gave up to many rushing yards (220), we came up with some big stops at times."
He also praised the individual efforts of some of his seniors. "CJ (Hardy) is a force to be reckoned with. It's hard for a defensive lineman to have big stats, but I'm sure when opponents see him on film, they know they are going to have to account for where he is on the field," he said of the UT-Martin commit.
"Him (Hardy), Kins Hooper and Cam Creighton there in the middle make our defense go. We've got another physical game next week with Ooltewah, so we'll have to get ready."
In a key Region 2-6A matchup, the Bears (3-1, 1-0) will host the Owls (2-2, 1-1), who are coming off a 56-14 shellacking by fourth-ranked McMinn County (3-0, 1-0), Friday.
The Bears came out of their den roaring with a nine-play, 70-yard scoring march to open Friday's game.
Burke notched the night's first score on a five-yard toss from junior QB Aiden McClary at the 6:25 mark. Sophomore Era Rojas, who missed last week's game with a slight leg strain, returned to boot the first of his five extra points on the evening.
The teams then traded punts, as well a turning the ball over on downs in the next two possessions.
Getting a short field on the latter change of possession, Bearden looked like they were going to score midway through the second quarter, driving to the Bear 1, but the "Black Hole Defense" responded for three straight stuffs, plus an 11-yard sack by Hardy on a third-and-two play.
After a missed field goal attempt, the Bulldog defense flexed its muscle with a three-and-out. Then on the Bear punt attempt, Griffin Oron blocked the ball into the end zone where teammate Jack Adams recovered it and the score was knotted at 7-all at the half.
After the teams combined for less than 200 yards of offense in the first two frames, the second half opened with a bang.
Bearden's Makai Williams broke free for a 68-yard scoring sprint on the first play from scrimmage.
Undaunted, Burke responded on the opening Bear try with what veteran Bear broadcaster Earl Rowan dubbed "the most electrifying run of the season," as he broke through for a 61-yard dash to pay dirt.
"Good teams answer," proclaimed Coach Floyd. "We let a bad thing happen, but we/Javon responded. He got good blocking. He saw the crease and he got a chance to take it to the house."
One of the fastest players to ever wear a Bear uniform described it by saying, "Everybody was telling me we needed a big play because they had just had one. I was like I've got to get it.
"He (McClary) called my favorite play. It was a draw right and when we ran it and I was like, ooh that cut right there (was open). I just hit it and that was it. He (the final Bearden defender) thought he had an angle on me, but he didn't."
With the score tied again (14-all) just 35 seconds into the third quarter, Bearden marched back down the field to the Bear 5. Two plays later Goree came up with his second interception in as many weeks, this one in the end zone to deny a Bulldog score.
Taking over on its own 20, Bradley put together another nine-play drive to paydirt, with Harmon doing the honors from seven yards out.
Bearden got some help from a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Bears in the ensuing drive and Williams was able to score on a 15-yard jaunt, but the extra-point attempt was wide, leaving the hosts up 21-20 at the end of the third frame.
The Black-and-Gold answered once again, this time with a 64-yard, seven-play drive capped by a one-yard QB sneak by McClary. Rojas made it 28-20 with 10:52 remaining.
After a sack and forced fumble by sophomore Gage Anderson highlighted a three-and-out for the Bear defense, Harmon went back to work, carrying the ball six straight times to get into Bulldog territory.
A 17-yard pass to senior Kanon Hall, who finished with 55 yards on a half dozen receptions, set up Burke's final score of the night. The O-line opened a giant hole for the speedster who went 19 yards untouched into the end zone.
The "Black Hole Defense" shut down any hope the Knoxville boys had of a rally when Tito Williams picked off his first varsity interception and Bradley was able to run the clock out.
Anderson paced the Bear defense with seven solos tackles, including two for loss yardage, plus had his sack and forced fumble.
Creighton helped out with five solos, three assists, two TFL, a sack and a forced fumble of his own. Bearden recovered both of their own fumbles.
Hardy collected five solos takedowns, including a pair of TFL and a monster sack.
The freshman safety duo of Goree and Williams stood out with the former getting four solos, an assisted tackle and a pass break up to go with his INT. The latter was in on four tackles and also batted away a Bearden pass as well as getting his pick.
'Complete' Bears throttle Owls
By JOE CANNON
Although the very potent Bradley Central offense put up it's highest total of the season, the "Black Hole Defense" stoled some of the limelight Friday evening.
After giving up a 69-yard touchdown pass on Ooltewah's sixth play from scrimmage, the Bear defenders allowed the visitors just 49 more yards the rest of the game, including only six yards on 27 rush attempts, in a 45-7 thrashing at Bear Stadium.
"It was a good team win — offense (450 total yards), defense, special teams. We played a complete game tonight," praised veteran Bradley coach Damon Floyd. "Ooltwah's QB (Fisher Perry) is a very tough kid and we had a lot of people keying on him tonight. Our defense came out and executed and had good intensity.
"They're doing a good job of getting after it and playing for each other. I really like the mentality we're getting right now.
"It took us some games to figure things out, but we're starting to gel a little and understand what our jobs are as individuals, which leads to good team ball," assessed the "Papa Bear" after his defense had a dozen tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including five QB sacks, 3 1/2 by junior home-schooler Josh Helsdon, and numerous "hurries."
"Helsdon got the start (at DE) because Isaiah Arnold was out sick and he took advantage of an opportunity," praised Floyd. "He had a great game (5 solo tackles, 2 assists, 4.5 TFL)."
Ranked 11th in this week's AP state 6A poll, Bradley (4-1, 2-0 Region 2-6A) will now get an extra week to prepare for the annual "Crosstown Clash" with arch-rival Cleveland (3-2, 1-1) at Benny Monroe Stadium.
"We kind of hate to have the week off before the Cleveland game," expressed Coach Floyd. "Last season we were 4-1 also and walked into the Cleveland game and had a letdown. We're on a good roll right now (having won four straight games), so I kind of hate to slow it down. We don't have a game next week, but we won't have a week off."
The rivalry battle was originally scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 1, as both school systems will be on fall break the following week, but CHS administration announced this week it has shifted the contest to Friday evening, Oct. 2.
The Blue Raiders had to go to overtime to get past Heritage (1-4, 0-3) 35-28 Friday evening in Maryville.
Other than the one mistake that allowed Ooltewah's lone score, Bradley was in complete control the entire game Friday.
After the defense allowed just four yards in forcing a three-and-out to open the contest, the Bear offense wasted no time as junior QB Aiden McClary hit senior Kanon Hall for 40 yards on their first play. The duo hooked up 10 times for 203 yards on the night.
Senior Javon Burke took the handoff on the next play and exploded for a 27-yard dash to move the ball to the 3 yard line.
Two plays later UT-Martin defensive end commit CJ Hardy joined the "heavy package" backfield and bulled in for a two-yard touchdown for the game's opening score.
Sophomore Grant Haney came on for his first varsity extra point and split the uprights with less than three minutes gone off the clock.
After the ensuing kickoff, Hardy smothered Owl running back Tacoda Jones as soon as he took a handoff for a two-yard loss on the first play.
Helsdon then stopped Perry at the line of scrimmage on the next play, but the Owl signal caller was able to lift a bomb to Dawson Jones, who had slipped behind the Bear secondary, caught the ball and made the hosts pay for their lone defensive mistake with a 69-yard touchdown.
After the game was knotted 7-all at the end of the opening quarter, the Bears exploded for a trio of second period scores.
Junior Carter Clayton powered in from the 1 to cap six-play, 49-yard drive just 36 ticks into the frame.
After Helsdon put an exclamation point on the next three-and-out with a six-yard sack, Bradley needed just three plays to score again as McClary broke free for 37 yards and then hit Hall with a perfect over-the-shoulder 25-yard pass in the end zone.
The final score of the opening half was set up by Hall, who surprised the Owls by scooping up a bouncing punt and dashing 30 yards with it to the Bears near midfield with just over a minute to go.
After McClary and Hall tacked on another 27-yard connection, the Bear QB found Burke from 16 yards out for the score. The senior speedster also took the ball in for a two-point conversion with 41 ticks on the clock.
Bradley continued the onslaught after the intermission, scoring on its first two possessions of the second half, with both marches covering 44 yards.
Hayes, who was filling in for Bear starting kicker Era Rojas, capped an eight-play drive with a 28-yard field goal, before McClary found Burke in the back of the end zone on a six-yard toss to complete a 10-play series that included a 42-yard pass to Hall to move the ball inside the Owl 10.
With the Bear reserves playing, the hosts tack on a final score in their last possession.
The Bradley defense forced the Owls to punt their own end zone and freshman Marcus Goree, imitated Hall by surprisingly grabbing the bouncing ball at the 38 and returning it to the Ooltewah 10.
Four plays later senior Riley Harmon, who led the Bears with 73 yards on a dozen carries, reentered the game and scored from four yards out to set off the "running clock" rule.
"People are stepping up big time when they get the chance," proclaimed Coach Floyd. "We only had three returning starters on defense and just two on offense that played against Ooltewah last year. We had a lot of new guys out there and boy they were getting after it."
With 57 return yards to go with his receptions, Hall finished the night with 260 all-purpose yards, while Burke broke the century mark for the third straight game, posting 104 total yards and has now scored five times in the last two wins.
McClary upped his astounding season completion rate to 73.4% by connecting on 13-of-17 passes for 236 yards and a trio of TDs. Since taking over from Virginia commit Javin Burke (who had shoulder surgery) in the second quarter of the season, the junior is 58-of-79 for 828 yards and seven scores, while yet to throw an interception.
Along with newcomer Helsdon's stealing the spotlight, the "Black Hole Defense" was once again led by senior captains Cam Creighton (5 solos, 3 asts, 2 TFL, 1 sack) and Kins Hooper (7 solos, 1 TFL), as well as Hardy (2 solos, 3 asts., 3 TFL, 1 sack).
"Cam, Kins and CJ have been doing it all year. They are leaders of our defense. They do it everyday in practice," Coach Floyd proclaimed. "They are the ones picking our defense up and holding them accountable. When you have good teams, the players hold each other accountable and the coaches don't have to do that.
"Cam, Kins and CJ do it every day. They walk the walk, not just talk the talk."
Creighton explained, "We all knew how big this game is. It's a region game. Everybody came out ready to play.
"We're getting good pressure up front. Our D-line is just killing it and making it easy on us linebackers. It's great to see four and five heads on the quarterback every play," he added.
Relentless Pride …….Honored Tradition