Bears Defeat Brainerd
By GARY OWNBEY
CHATTANOOGA — Bradley Central opened its 105th gridiron season with a 33-6 "home" win over the Brainerd Panthers, in a game originally scheduled for Bear Stadium but was moved to Finley Stadium due to the ongoing installation of artificial turf.
The Bears make the short trip north this week for the annual "County Conflict" on the new artificial turf at "The MAC" (formerly known as "The Corral"). Walker Valley opened its campaign with a 37-0 shutout of Notre Dame, in their home opener.
Friday was a typical first game in many respects as both Bradley and Brainerd struggled offensively, in a penalty-marred, near three-hour game.
While the Bears were whistled for seven penalties resulting in 68 yards marked off, the Panthers had an astounding 24 penalties stepped off for a total of 169 yards.
The Panthers gained 141 yards combined in running and passing, but gave up more penalty yardage than their offense could generate.
Veteran Bear head coach Damon was happy to get a win to open the season, something they haven't done in the past four years.
"We didn’t play very well and have a lot of room for improvement,” he related after the game. “We are still making mistakes at crucial times. When we do our job, then we have a chance to be pretty good.”
The Bears drew first blood in the opening quarter when Brainerd was forced to punt on their first possession after winning the coin toss, but were flagged for five penalties in their first drive.
On their first chance, the Bears marched 80 yards in eight plays to score at the 3:50 mark in the quarter. Senior quarterback Aiden McClary connected with sophomore Marcus Goree Jr. on a 17-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick failed and the Bears led 6-0.
The Panthers answered with a 70-yard drive of their own to notch their lone score of the evening. After a 1-yard plunge by Willie Graves capped the march, the extra point was blocked by Bear Josh Helsdon to keep the score even at 6-6 with 1:24 in the period.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Bears drove 65 yards for their second score of the game. Sophomore Simon Mullis toted the pigskin in from 12 yards away. Once again the PAT failed and the Bears led 12-6 with 8:36 in the half.
Mullis became the workhorse for the Bear running attack in the first half after sophomore Jackson Wilson had a minor leg injury.
Wilson would return in the second half as he and Mullis led the Bear ground game.
Mullis led the Bear rushing attack with 96 yards on 20 carries, plus caught a seven-yard pass to go over the century mark for the night, while Wilson compiled 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
The Bears went to the halftime dressing room with the 12-6 lead and responded with a much better second half, especially on defense.
Brainerd entered the game with 27 players in uniform and on a hot humid night, the Bear defense completely controlled the second half on the field.
“Obviously our depth was the difference in the game,” added Floyd. "It was a very unusual game. They have some very talented players, but we missed too many assignments.”
The Bears struggled during their first two drives of the second half, but were able to pick up with the third score of the night at 1:24 in the third period with Wilson carrying six consecutive plays and scoring on a 3-yard burst. Junior Grant Haney split the uprights on the PAT for a 19-6 Bear advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Bradley's "Black Hole Defense" got in on the scoring with a pair of "Pick 6s" in a 76-second span.
Sophomore Marcus Goree Jr., playing beside his younger brother Mason in the defensive backfield, grabbed an interception and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach at 7:33 in the game, with Haney adding his second PAT of the night.
On the next Panther possession, sophomore Tito Williams snagged the second Bear interception and raced 45 yards and another "Pick 6" and the game's final score being Haney’s PAT providing the winning margin of 33-6.
The Bear defense completely stifled the Panther offense in the second half with newcomer senior Blake Johnson recording two sacks from his "rover" position with assistance from junior Knox Watson and senior Isaiah Arnold.
Senior Nadavian Richards had a second-half fumble recovery for the Bears as well.
Watson led the Bears with eight total tackles (three solo, five assists) with sophomore Rodney Williams adding seven (2/5) and junior Gage Anderson being credited with a half dozen (3/3).
McClary connected on 9-of-18 passes for 76 yards with a TD and an interception. He was sacked just once thanks to the veteran Bear O-Line.
Junior receiver Taylor Duggan hauled in three catches for 24 yards and freshman J’Alan Taylor grabbed two for 11 yards. The Bears had six different receivers with catches for the game.
The Bears will look to re-focus for the big game at Walker Valley next Friday. “We’ll have to play much better,” concluded Coach Floyd.
Bears capture seventh straight over Raiders
By JOE CANNON
Cleveland High hurried to install it's new $200,000 video scoreboard at Benny Monroe Stadium this week, but they didn't like the looks of it at the end of Friday's "Crosstown Clash" — a seventh-straight Bradley Central victory.
"It's a credit to our kids," proclaimed veteran "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd after his "sleuth" scored 21 unanswered points in the second half for a 28-14 come-from-behind victory.
"I don't know why we've been coming out slow to start games this season, but once again we were able to pick it up and come back to get the win."
Now 3-0 to a start a season for the first time since 2016, plus getting their first Region 2-6A win, sixth-ranked Bradley's "Black Hole Defense" held the 11th-ranked Blue Raiders to just nine rushing yards in the second half, plus added a pair "Pick 6s" — by junior Knox Watson (32 yards) and senior Landon Price (63 yards) — for their final two scores to seal the win.
After putting up over 200 all-purpose yards and a trio of TDs against county-rival Walker Valley the previous week, Bear sophomore Jackson Wilson went off for 236 yards on 27 carries Friday, including a scoring jaunt, for the 12th best single-game rushing performance Bradley's 105-year history.
Although Cleveland still holds a 27-20 edge in the overall arch-rivalry, Bradley has claimed nine of the last 11 meetings, with five of those coming at "The Benny."
The Bears will now turn their attention to a third-straight rivalry game as they travel to Athens Friday evening to take on McMinn County for the 98th continuous time, the second-longest streak in the state.
"They hate us. We are their main rival. They look at us like we look at Cleveland," proclaimed Coach Floyd, who is concerned about a letdown after the big victories over the Mustangs and Raiders, plus the fact the Cherokees are 1-2 after falling to Rhea County 34-20 Friday.
"We better be ready to go. I know it's not a region game anymore, put they will be coming after us with everything they have."
Now 2-1 on the season, Cleveland will regroup to host winless East Ridge (0-3) this week.
The Raiders came out strong Friday, getting a trio of "strip sacks" by senior DE Tate O'Bryan to stall the first three Bradley possessions in Bear territory. Teammates Leo Palelei, Jaden Acevedo and Edward Couvillion recovered the fumbles caused by O'Bryan's big plays.
Cleveland cashed in on the first takeaway, taking a half dozen snaps to go the 30 yards needed as senior power runner Tetoe Boyd bulled in from the 1 for the game's opening score at the 7:19 mark of the first frame.
Junior kicker Bennett Smith split the uprights for the extra point and a 7-0 advantage.
However, the "Black Hole Defense" negated the next two turnovers, with Watson taking the ball back on a fumble recovery to end the first one and a dynamic goal-line stand on four plays from the 2-yard line, stalling the second.
"We had opportunities to take complete control of the game in the first half and didn’t get it done," bemoaned third-year Raider head coach Marty Wheeler, who was celebrating a birthday Friday. "They (Bradley) made the most of their opportunities when they got them."
The Bears were finally able to get on the scoreboard in their fifth offensive series, after getting pinned on its own 4 yard line by a Drew Lambert punt.
Jackson took the hand off on the opening play and broke through the line for a 65-yard dash, that had another 15 tacked on after the Raider defender caught him from behind, but was flagged for a horse-collar tackle.
After a nine-yard "jet sweep" by freshman J'Alan Terry, Wilson covered the final seven yards to paydirt with 4:08 on the second-quarter clock. Junior Era Rojas' extra point tied the game.
The hosts answered with a nine-play, 76-yard scoring march with Lambert hitting O'Bryan for a 15-yard scoring strike with just 23 ticks on the first half clock. Smith's PAT made is 14-7 at the intermission.
After receiving the second half kickoff, Bradley tried to take the pressure off and protect senior QB Aiden McClary, who has been nursing an injury since the season opener, staying on the ground for all but one of a 14-play drive to even the game.
Effectively mixing rushes by Wilson and Terry, the Bears marched 84 yards with Terry doing the honors from 14 yards out on a another sweep. Rojas tied the game with his PAT at the 5:08 mark of the third quarter.
Cleveland tried to respond in kind, but on its fifth play after the ensuing kickoff, Watson stepped in front of a Raider pass and headed to the end zone 32 yards away, just 97 seconds after the previous Bradley score.
After the teams traded punts, the Raiders got their offense in gear for a pair of first downs, driving from their own 36 to the Bradley 38 before they "paid the Price."
With senior DE Josh Helsdon and sophomore LB Rodney Williams sandwiching the Raider QB while he was throwing, Price picked off the "dying quail" and raced 63 yards to paydirt for the final score of the night with 7:51 remaining.
The "Black Hole Defense" knocked Raider starting signal caller Lambert out of the game on the next possession when Helsdon and Williams "combo-sacked" him.
"Our defense shifted the momentum with that goal-line stand and the two picks," declared Coach Floyd, who is now 10-6 against the Blue Raiders since taking over the Bradley program in 2006.
"Good things happen when you continue to fight. We're pleased to be 3-0. That's hard to do," he added while improving his coaching mark to 98-71, the second-most wins in Bear gridiron coaching history.
Even with four double-digit gains negated by penalties, Wilson's 236 yards gives him a county-leading 474 on the season and a better than eight yards per carry average.
Terry dashed for 54 yards on seven carries, plus had pair of catches for 13 yards and returned a kick 18 for 85 all-purpose yards.
After a 181-yard performance in the season opener, Boyd was injured after just three carries against McMinn County the previous week before going for 59 yards on 15 first half rushes Friday evening. He only got four touches in the second half for a half dozen yards.
Junior DJ Adams helped out with seven carries for 39 yards, plus had an 18-yard reception for the Raiders.
Senior Destun Thomas, who pick up an offer from the University of Memphis this week, pulled in eight passes for 54 yards, while sophomore Mycah Jordan and O'Bryan made four catches apiece for 43 and 42 yards respectively.
Before going out late, Lambert completed 14-of-22 passes for 117 yards, while sophomore LJ Adams came on to finish the game 4-of-8 for 48.
Watson paced the Bear defense with 13 total hits, including seven solo tackles, was in on a pair of sacks, plus his two takeaways.
Sophomore Simon Mullis helped out with five solos and three assists, while Rodney Williams made eight total hits, including a sack.
Junior Finn Mertens had a half dozen solo take downs and an assist, plus one behind the line of scrimmage. Price had four solos in his seven total hits, with a sack and his "Pick 6".
Ooltewah transfer Blake Johnson and senior LB Isaiah Arnold were both in on a half dozen take downs, with the latter having two for loss and a sack.
The "Raider Rampage" defense was topped by senior Couvillion with 10 solos, a trio of assists, with a couple of TFL, a sack and a fumble recovery.
The "Menacing Marauder" Palelei had a dozen hits with nine solo take downs, two TFL and pounced on a loose pigskin. Senior Jonathan Heralus collected five solos and three assists.
Including his trio of "strip sacks," O'Bryan had 10 total hits and four tackles behind the line.
Bear attack too much for Mustangs
By JOE CANNON
After securing yet another "County Conflict" victory, Bradley Central interrupted head coach Damon Floyd's postgame interviews by encircling him with a rousing "Happy Birthday" serenade Friday evening.
Turning what was expected to be a very close offensive shootout at the McKenzie Athletic Complex, known as "The MAC," into a 27-10 runaway, the seventh-ranked (6A) Bears continued their dominance over No. 6 (5A) Walker Valley, claiming their 16th victory in 17 battles against their in-county rivals.
"Our kids showed up — we stuck together and found a way to win," proclaimed the veteran "Papa Bear," who turns 44 today. "We put ourselves in some bad situations, but then we rose to the occasion and prevented them from cashing in."
Bradley sophomore Jackson Wilson highlighted the night with 201 yards on 26 touches, scoring all three Bear touchdowns, one of which was a 79-yard dash to paydirt.
"Jackson had a great night, plus our offensive line and defense really showed up," praised Floyd.
"We appreciate the support from the band, the cheerleaders, plus Bear Nation. We feed off of the energy they bring and it pushes us to excel."
Both sides of the more than capacity crowd that filled the revitalized stadium, including a new artificial turf surface, cheered their teams on as the annual meeting brings out school pride.
"The were a lot of emotions with this game; it's a big rivalry game. It was a fun atmosphere. I'm really proud of our kids for handling the adversity and sticking with it. Getting the win was tough," assessed Coach Floyd.
"It was a great atmosphere tonight. While this loss hurts tonight, we will continue to get better. This doesn't affect our main goals for this season — win the region, have the program's first back-to-back winning seasons, and get playoff wins," proclaimed third-year Mustang head coach Drew Akins.
Both teams will now turn their attention to their respective region openers this week.
Bradley (2-0) will face another big game at archrival Cleveland (2-0), which is coming off a 21-17 stunner at McMinn County.
Walker Valley (1-1) will entertain Region 4-5A newcomer Ooltewah (0-1), which didn't play this week after its game with Red Bank was postponed because of a COVID situation.
The Mustangs opened Friday's action with a 7 1/2-minute, 12-play drive to the Bear 5 yard line, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal off the foot of sophomore Eli Wilson.
The Bears matched the effort with a 13-play, 72-yard march, that also resulted in a three-pointer as junior Era Rojas was true from 36 yards away on the third play of the second quarter.
The "Black Hole Defense" took over for the guests after the ensuing kickoff, with three straight sacks of the Mustang gunslinger. Sophomore linebacker Rodney Williams and junior Tyner transfer Don Jones were in on two of them apiece. Senior DE Josh Helsdon got in on the fun as well, to force a 'Stang punt.
Bradley once again was patient in its approach, this time using 14 plays to cover 40 yards, but this time the field goal attempt hit the crossbar and bounced back into the end zone.
Keeping the pressure up, the Bear D forced another three-and-out, including Jones batting a pass attempt into the air and WV QB Ryan Lay catching it himself for a 10-yard loss, plus a penalty flag was thrown for him shuttling a second pass on the play.
The hosts were forced to punt from the back of their own end zone, and Bear senior Taylor Duggan fielded it on the fly at the 39 and returned it to the Mustang 11.
Two plays later Bear senior signal caller Aiden McClary found Jackson Wilson with a little sideline pass that he cashed in for his first TD of the evening.
Rojas tacked on the extra point with just under 40 seconds remaining in the opening half for a 10-3 Bear advantage.
After the spectacular band performances, Bradley struck quickly when back-to-back out of bound penalties on kickoffs preceded Bear freshman speedster J'Alan Terry returning the ball 53 yards to the 'Stang 30.
Three straight handoffs to Jackson Wilson had him standing in the end zone once again, breaking free on an 18-yard dash to the goal line.
"We started strong, but then those two series where we were pushed back and then letting them score just before the half and then again right after, put us in a position where we were chasing them," expressed Coach Akins.
Staying calm, Walker Valley once again put together a sustained drive to get back in it, using 13 plays to cover 58 yards. Lay carried the mail on seven plays, including a one-yard plunge to paydirt.
Eli Wilson split the uprights for a 17-10 difference at the 4:16 mark of the third frame.
The Mustangs got a chance to even the game when a mix up on the ensuing kickoff allowed them to recover the loose ball at the Bear 25, but they were stopped on a fourth-and-2 play to give the ball back to the visitors.
Three plays later, Bradley turned what could have been a disastrous play into a spectacular one. A high snap made McClary leap to retrieve it, throwing off the timing for the handoff to Jackson Wilson, however the sophomore speedster was able to break through the initial would-be tacklers in the backfield and outrun the Mustang defense down the right sideline for a 79-yard score.
A high snap on the ensuing extra-point attempt was saved by Duggan, the holder, who got it down quick enough for Rojas to split the uprights for the final point of the evening with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
"If we get it back to 17-17 then we've got a good chance, but we made a mistake on the fourth-down play and then (Jackson) Wilson's big run really hurt," commented Akins.
The Herd tried to recover but the "Black Hole Defense" sucked them in for losses on four of their following half-dozen plays, including Williams recording his third sack 16 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth down play.
Taking over on the Mustang 39, a penalty thwarted the Bear drive, forcing a punt and once again a bad snap resulted a lost fumble just 44 yards from paydirt.
The Bradley defense rose to the occasion once again forcing another three-and-out with Jones and Helsdon combining on the fifth Bear sacks of the night.
The "Black Hole" had one more big play to cap the victory when sophomore Marcus Goree Jr. picked off a pass on the final WV offensive play from the Bear 15.
Bradley held the Mustang offense, which averaged just under 40 points a game last season and won their opener 37-0, to just 29 rushing yards on 34 carries and 145 on 16 pass completions. Bear defenders made a dozen tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Rodney Williams led the way with five solo tackles, assisted on four others, with a trio of sacks in his four tackles for loss. Sophomore safety Tito Williams was in on a half-dozen tackles, including a trio of solos and one for a loss.
Junior LB Landon Price posted three solos and a trio of assists, while Goree Jr. had four solo takedowns and an assist to go with his "pick." Senior Ooltewah transfer Blake Johnson was in on five hits, including a sack.
After missing part of last week's season opener with an injury, Jackson Wilson returned with a vengeance picking up 168 yards on 21 carries, plus hauling in a trio of receptions for another 33 yards to clip the 200-yard all-purpose mark.
McClary, who was also injured in the victory over Brainerd the week before, completed 15-of-23 passes for 107 yards, with Duggan pulling in a half-dozen for 51.
While under heavy pressure, Lay connected on 16-of-25 passes for 145 yards with senior Kade Tjaarda grabbing six for 49, while classmates Spencer Jackson had five for 37 and Aiden Gibson a trio of 33 yards.
Defensively for the hosts, senior LB Judah Greene was in on 16 take downs, including 11 solos, two TFL, plus he caused a fumble and recovered one, while also breaking up a pass.
Reigning All-County Defensive Player of the Year, junior Eli Denton had four solos in his 10 total tackles, one of which was behind the line of scrimmage.
Junior Tucker Ownby brought down seven solo tackles, plus was in on two more hits, while Jackson made four of his half-dozen takedowns by himself.
"I'm really proud of our defense. It gave us opportunity after opportunity," proclaimed Coach Akins.
"In the end they (Bradley) made more plays than we did. They were able to cash in on their opportunities and we weren't. We'll learn from this, but it doesn't make or break our season."
Coach Floyd notches 100th Win
By JOE CANNON
Years of hard work and dedication to his alma mater came to a head Friday evening for "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd.
Not only seeing the fruition of years of working toward securing a top-notch facility for his team, including a new $1 million-plus project to install a state-of-the-art artificial turf field, he also notched his 100th coaching victory.
"I never dreamed it. I never even thought about it, and really did not know, until people brought up a lot this week," he said, before Friday evening's 28-0 shutout of Hardin Valley Academy to reach the milestone.
"We've been fortunate to have a lot of good players come through. The players are the ones that win the games. So, like I've said many times I'm just happy to be a small part of it," said the modest Bear mentor.
"I think anytime you can coach in your (alma mater) school, there's a little bit more pride. I can't really speak on the other half because I've never coached anywhere else but here, but I know there's a lot of pride here, knowing that you played here.
"We've got a lot of people on our (school) staff and our coaching staff that went to Bradley and many played here. So I think it means more to them," he added.
"You know, really I know it's a cliché, but this is not about me by any means, it's about the program. And I know I'm repeating myself, but it really is just me being a small part of it, it's not me.
"We take great pride in where we're at (having just secured their 12th straight TSSAA playoff berth) as a program compared to where we came from. But, we still haven't won it all yet and until you win it all, that's the ultimate goal," Floyd assessed.
"We are proud of the fact that we've been a very consistent program over the years, and we feel like football is important again here. You know, there was a time quite honestly, some years it just wasn't important. So, as a coach I do take some pride in being a small part of the turnaround."
The second-winningest football coach in the school's 105-year history, Floyd is currently 100-71 in his 16 years at the helm.
Coming to Bradley between his sophomore and junior years of high school, Floyd had an immediate impact on both the football and wrestling programs.
He set a school record with 1,818 rushing yards and scored 22 touchdowns for Coach Marty Wild's 1995 team, that went 7-5. The Bears advanced to the second round of the TSSAA playoffs, where they lost to Farragut 65-64 in state-record tying seven-overtime thriller. Floyd's No. 2 jersey has been retired at BCHS.
Following in the footsteps of his dad, Jim, Floyd went to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga on a football scholarship, where he became a team captain and a defensive standout. His dad had been a Moc running back in the late 1960s.
"I went to UTC as a running back, but 15 minutes into my first practice the coaches sent me over to the defense," Floyd remarked. The fact he was credited with 78 tackles and five interceptions his senior year with the Bears made him more valuable to the Mocs on that side of the ball.
After marrying his wife, Angela, in 1998 and graduating from UTC in 2000, Floyd left the gridiron for three years before returning to his alma mater.
"I sold cell phones for Kent Copeland for three years and then got a chance to come back to coach at Bradley," he explained.
Hired as an assistant under head football coach Dean Ratledge, Floyd also returned to the mat, helping legendary Coach Steve Logsdon with the Bear wrestling program.
While the wrestling program was flourishing in the prime of nine state titles in six years, the gridiron Black-and-Gold were struggling, going 4-26 in his three seasons as an assistant under Ratledge and John Allen.
At age 28, he became the youngest head coach in Bradley football history in 2006, taking over the program which had just one win in its previous 20 games.
Floyd's first team went 4-6, matching the number of wins from the previous three seasons.
After slipping to 2-8 the following year, the Bears bounced back to 4-6 in 2008 and reached the .500 mark (5-5) the next campaign, including beating archrival Cleveland for the first time in 21 years. The 27-26 overtime win at Raider Field (the first time since 1977) snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Blue Raiders.
"Anytime you beat a rival it sticks out, but I think that the first win over Cleveland (in 2009) was hard to top," Floyd related. "Just knowing where we came from and, you know, to be quite honest Cleveland was kind of what we were shooting for. To finally get them took a lot of effort and a lot of hard work by a lot of kids.
"It was Bryce Copeland's freshman year," he added, of the former four-year Bear QB. "That was a very special group and winning that game really went a long way in turning our program around."
Floyd is now 10-6 against the Bears' crosstown nemesis, having won their last seven meetings, including an 18-0 win at Raider Field in 2011 in a game that was nationally-televised on ESPN.
Bradley is also 15-1 against county-rival Walker Valley during Floyd's tenure. The last four Bear senior classes never lost to either local rival during their prep careers.
While there have been plenty of exciting victories during Floyd's coaching run, he was quick to point out, "I know this sounds bad, but really it's the losses you remember more than the victories.
"We've had some big wins — coming back and winning that playoff game at Dobyns-Bennett (2017) and Farragut in the opening round (of the playoffs) last year," he pointed out.
The Bears broke out of a decade-long playoff absence in 2010, when they advanced to the second round and posted a 9-3 record. They matched that record in 2016 and went one better at 10-3 in '17.
They have made the postseason ever since, including playoffs victories in 2016 and last year, plus advancing to the third round with back-to-back wins over Science Hill and D-B in 2017.
"As the head coach I often get too much of the credit for wins and blame for losses, but we've been able to build a strong program where the players have each other's back," commented Floyd. "They work hard and sweat together in the weight room in the offseason and come together for a common goal on the field in the summer and fall.
"It's really not about me, it's about everyone doing their job — that's where you get satisfaction.
"We came from a place where no one expected to make the playoffs when we first took over to now it's expected and if we don't it's a failure. We're very prideful in the fact that we have sustained a quality program that is expected to be in the hunt," he added.
"We were the last team in the region to get turf, the big video board, a quality weight-room and practice facility and yet we've been able to build the program to where it is now."
Floyd and his Bears will get an extra week to celebrate before starting on his next 100 victories on Oct. 1, when Bearden comes to battle on the new turf.
Black Hole Defense Shuts Out Hawks
By JOE CANNON
There was a lot of excitement going on at Bear Stadium Friday evening, but as for the action on the field, fifth-ranked Bradley Central didn't get going offensively until the second half — but then they put on a show worthy of the night's celebration.
"We're never going to complain about a win, but it was ugly, obviously [in the] first half, offensively," stated "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd after the 28-0 shellacking of winless Hardin Valley Academy for his 100th coaching victory (see related story this page) and his "sleuth" securing its 12th straight TSSAA playoff berth.
"While our defense played great all night, we couldn't really get our offense going until midway through the third quarter."
A pair of very positive performances had Bear Nation celebrating — the "Black Hole" posted the first defensive shutout in 104 games, dating back to the third contest of the 2012 season, plus another unbelievable four-TD performance be sophomore star Jackson Wilson.
After going off for more than 200 yards in each of the three previous games, Wilson exploded for 264 yards on 30 carries, caught a trio of passes for another 39, threw a 20-yard pass on a fake punt, booted a trio of punts for a 35-yard average, including a 43-yarder that pinned the visiting Hawks on their own 4-yard line, plus he played some in the defensive secondary due to the absence of some starters.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder has produced three of the Top 15 single-game rushing performances in the 104-year Bear history during the last three games — Friday's 264 is seventh-best, while his 236 at McMinn County last week is No. 13 and his 234 the week before at Cleveland is 15th.
Averaging 8 1/2 yards a carry, Wilson leads the area with 972 yards on 114 carries, with nine TDs, plus has caught 11 passes for 124 yards (11.3 ypc) and two more scores, as the Bears are 5-0 at the mid-point of the season for the first time since winning their first seven games of the 2016 campaign.
Bradley (5-0, 2-0 Region 2-6A) will get a week to rest and recuperate with an off week before returning to Bear Stadium on Oct. 1, when Region 2 newcomer Bearden (2-3, 1-1) comes calling.
Whether it was the celebration re-dedicating the newly-renovated Jimmie Lovell Field or getting to play on the new of $1 million-plus improvements, — including an artificial turf surface — in their first true home game of the fall or even the pageantry of Homecoming festivities, Coach Floyd going for his 100th win or the fact they were playing a winless team after three straight tough rivalry games, the Bears came out flat Friday evening.
"I wasn't shocked that we came out a little bit like we did," remarked Coach Floyd. "You know, you play like you practice and we didn't have a good week of practice. After just having played three big rivalry games and everything that went into getting the field finished up, I was hard for our guys to get up.
"But we had a good talk at halftime and the guys responded," the veteran Bear mentor added. "We had too many penalties (10 for 110 yards) that really hurt us, but overall our defense and offensive line played great all night.
"We also had some starters out and guys like Wayne Dayton, a senior who has waited his turn, and Max Wilson, another sophomore, stepped in and got big interceptions. Our defense kept us in it and our offense picked it up in the second half."
Despite a very rousing performance of the national anthem by Lake Forest seventh-grader Lilli Winters, the lone score of the opening half came on the game's fifth possession, with Bradley getting the ball on its own 41 and using 13 plays, and a big chunk of the clock, before Wilson punched it in from the 2.
Junior kicker Era Rojas added the extra point with 7:56 on the second-quarter clock and the score stayed at 7-0 until the first play of the final frame.
After senior Bearette basketball player Morgan Cartwright was crowned the 2021 Homecoming Queen, the second half started the same as the first, with a trio of fruitless possessions.
After the "Black Hole" turned back a Hardin Valley (0-4, 0-2) drive into the "Red Zone," the Bear offense was able to mount its second sustained march of the night.
Taking over on the 34, the hosts earned a first down, but then appeared to be stalled at their own 46. However, from his punting position, Wilson faked the kick and tossed a 20-yard pass to junior Knox Watson to keep the drive alive.
"Coach Garrett Payne is the one who drew up that play. He and the kids did a great job of executing it, so they get credit for that," praised Coach Floyd.
Wilson then gained 17 and seven yards on the next two carries before crossing the goal line from 10-yards out on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
After the Bear "D" forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Bradley took over at its own 25, and two plays later Wilson exploded through the line untouched for a 74-yard sprint to the end zone.
Once again the "Black Hole" swallowed the Hawk offense, stopping a fourth-and-1 play at midfield.
Staying with what was working, Bradley handed the ball to Wilson for gains of 13 and eight yards, which set up senior QB Aiden McClary, finding classmate Taylor Duggan in paydirt, but the referee ruled he was still juggling the ball when he went out of the the back of the end zone.
No problem — the Bears went back to Wilson, who responded with a 29-yard dash on the next play for the final score of the evening and cap his night's effort with 7:49 left on the clock.
In the first 251 seconds of the fourth period, Wilson gained 135 yards on a half-dozen carries, half of which went for scores.
Freshman J'Alan Terry, who missed the McMinn game, was back in the Bear lineup Friday, helping with eight catches for 54 yards, plus five carries for 68 for a 122-yard overall effort.
McClary completed 14-of-26 passes for 116 yards, but did have a pair picked off as the Bradley finished with 433 yards of offense.
The "Black Hole Defense" limited the Hawks to just 39 first-half yards and 165 total, with 68 coming on their final possession against many of the Bear B-teamers.
"I'm really proud of our defense. They stepped up all night again. We had a lot of guys stepping in, raised their standard of play and met the expectations that we needed tonight," Floyd proclaimed.
The Bear defense was led by sophomore Simon Mullis and Watson, who both had a trio of solo tackles and four assists.
Sophomore LB Rodney Williams helped out with five total hits, including a pair of solo takedowns, while senior DE Josh Helsdon was in on a half-dozen tackles.
Watson, Williams and Helsdon all had tackles behind the line of scrimmage, plus put plenty of pressure on the Hawk QB all night, allowing them to complete just 6-of-21 passes.
Some bad news from the contest is an injured ankle for Mullis, at the end of a 47-yard run in the third period, that was called back due to a penalty. The primary back-up for Wilson in the Bear backfield could be out for the season as surgery may be necessary, according to one Bradley assistant coach Saturday.
Mullis had gained 180 yards on 27 carries (6.7 ypc) and scored three times, plus had been in on 22 tackles adding depth to the linebacking and secondary crews.
"I hate it for him and us as a team. He's a hard-nosed kid that was having a good season on both sides of the ball," related Floyd after the game Friday evening.
As for heading back to the postseason, the Bear coach credits his team's hard work.
"It's the guys. We, as coaches, don't get out on the field, they do and they are the ones making the plays. It's always good to make playoffs, so that's good to accomplish that.
"I told the team (after the game), we're 5-0, but those five don't mean a thing if we don't finish the season strong and get ready for the playoffs. We only get to have three home games here this season, but we can earn some more in the playoffs, so that's our goal now.
"The field and stadium look so great. As far as I'm concerned it's the most beautiful in the state. We're very fortunate to have it (the new state-of-the-art artificial surface). We want to thank [Director of Schools] Dr. (Linda) Cash and the (Bradley County Schools') board for investing in our kids like this.
"This will not only benefit the football program, but band, soccer and many other events we'll be able to host without worry of the field conditions," he added.
Bears Blow Out McMinn
By GARY OWNBEY
ATHENS — Fifth-ranked (6A) Bradley Central picked up another big road win Friday night with a blowout of its oldest rival, McMinn County.
The host Cherokees got a pair of scores in the final two minutes after the game had been long decided to make it a more respectable 44-28 tally in the 99th meeting of the second-longest continuous rivalry (94 years) in the state.
After four games away from their home den to start the season, the unbeaten Bears (4-0) finally get to turn their sights to Jimmie Lovell Field next Friday when they host the winless Hardin Valley (0-3) in their second Region 2-6A game of the season.
Prior to the match with the Hawks, Bear Stadium will unveil its new artificial turf with a special ceremony beginning at 6:30 followed by the 7 p.m. kickoff. Fans are encouraged to get there early for the celebration.
“We expect a huge crowd with some very special guests and a video salute to past players from over 100 years of Bear football,” related Bradley Central principal Patrick Spangler earlier in the week.
The Bear victory in Athens improved veteran head coach Damon Floyd's record to 7-10 against the Tribe, since taking over the program in 2006. The Bradley-McMinn series started in 1927 and has been played continuously since that date, second only to Rockwood and Midway, who have played each year since 1923.
The second-winningest coach in Bradley's 105-year history, Floyd (99-71) can notch his 100th career win if the Bears can knock off Hardin Valley next Friday. In addition to showcasing its new turf and a spruced-up Jimmie Lovell Field, it will be the annual homecoming festivities at Bradley Central.
Floyd’s 99 wins as "Papa Bear"’ is second only to Lovell, for whom the field is named, who coached the Bears to 124 wins against 70 losses in 21 seasons from 1917-1938.
Friday night’s battle on "The Reservation" turned into a rout quickly as the Bears roared out to a 24-0 lead before the host Cherokees found paydirt.
“I was really pleased with how we started but disappointed with how it ended when we allowed the two late touchdowns,” said veteran Bradley head coach Damon Floyd in a post-game interview. “No matter who is in the game, we’ve got to be able to stop the ball.”
“I thought our defense was playing hard and really laying some licks on them throughout the game. In the locker room before the game, I told the team that I didn’t think we were ready to play, so it was nice for Marcus (Goree Jr.) to get us started with his touchdown return.”
The trend for the game was set when sophomore Goree returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Junior Era Rojas added his first PAT of the game for a 7-0 Bear lead with just 16 ticks gone off the clock.
The Bears would stretch the lead with three more first-half scores before the Cherokees were able to get the goose egg off their side of the scoreboard with a late touchdown for a 24-7 difference at the half.
Bradley's veteran offensive line opened holes for sophomore sensation Jackson Wilson, whose power running doesn’t require much of a whole for the youngster to get positive yardage.
Going over the 200-yard mark for the third straight week, Wilson toted the pigskin for 231 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown, plus hauled in a pair of passes from senior quarterback Aiden McClary for 38 yards and another score.
McClary, who has been slowed by a sore leg from an injury in the season-opener, was much more mobile on Friday night while completing 9-of-13 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
After Rojas nailed a 23-yard field goal to stake the Bears to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, sophomore Simon Mullis scored on a 19-yard run while allowing workhorse Wilson to catch his breath on the sidelines.
On the first play of the series, Wilson had romped for 48 yards into the Cherokee "Red Zone" and it took Mulllis one play to hit paydirt, with Rojas successfully adding the PAT for a 17-0 Bear lead.
After holding the "Black Hole Defense" held the Cherokees to a three-and-out series, the Bear offense needed six plays for their next score, with Wilson catching a pass in the right flat and powering his way 32 yards to push the Bear lead to 24-0.
McMinn County’s only score of the first half came on an eight-yard pass from Cherokee junior signal caller Jayden Miller to Luke Hensley with 1:08 remaining. Spencer Sullins’ PAT closed out the half with the Bears up 24-7.
After the intermission, Bradley upped the lead to 30-7 when McClary connected with Bear junior Taylor Duggan on a 23-yard touchdown with 2:23 remaining in the third quarter, but the PAT attempt was blocked.
McMinn countered with a five-play, 70-yard drive as Miller connected on a 47-yard bomb with Noah Glen getting behind the Bear defenders. Sullins tacked on the PAT to make it 30-14.
Both teams scored twice in the fourth quarter with an interception by junior Finn Mertens setting up the Bears at the Cherokee 23-yard line. Wilson raced for the final 22 yards to extend the lead to 37-14 after Rojas split the upright.
After once again getting a defensive stop, Bradley needed just three plays to cap its scoring with a 46-yard scamper by Mullis before Rojas added his sixth PAT of the game for a 44-14 advantage with just four minutes to play.
Not willing to surrender, the Cherokees responded with a 63-yard drive in seven plays, capped with a 1-yard plunge by Miller to cut the lead to 44-20 when the two-point conversion pass attempt failing with 1:50 remaining.
McMinn County recovered a Bear fumble on the first play of the next series at the Bear 32 and cashed it in six plays later, when Miller scampered in from 16 yards out and tacked on a two-point pass to Hensley with just 25 ticks on the clock.
Junior LB Knox Watson seemed to be all over the field leading the "Black Hole Defense" with 13 tackles (7 solos/6 assists), with sophomore safety Tito Williams added eight (4/4).
A total of 19 Bear defenders were credited with tackles with Merten’s interception being the sixth takeaway of the season.
“There’s no doubt our success has been the domination of our offensive line,” praised Floyd after the 417-yard offensive performance.
“Our defense has played well most of the time, but we can’t have lapses and give up easy scores.
"It was an overall good team win and I’m proud of our team right now. We need the Bear Nation to fill up Bear Stadium next Friday for what will be a very special night,” he encouraged.