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.
Bears Clip Wings Off the Owls
By RICHARD ROBERTS
OOLTEWAH — There was really no need for Damon Floyd to be worried, but like any coach, Floyd was concerned the distractions and down time of fall break would lessen the focus of his football team.
But, the Bears quickly put any doubts to rest with touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game on their way to a 35-6 road win over Ooltewah.
The Bears, 7-0, racked up 315 yards on the ground while senior field general Aiden McClary picked the Oolewah (1-5) secondary apart for 180 yards and a score.
Sophomore running back Jackson Wilson gashed the Owls' defense for 177 yards, rushing on 23 carries with two first-half scores.
“It was a pretty complete game, really. Usually I always have something to pick on, but I can't really say a whole lot. I will probably go back and look at film and find some things," said Floyd as the Bears celebrated the victory. “I was worried with it being fall break with the distractions and having some guys out how we would play. They came and battled and I'm proud about that.”
The Bears opened the night with a fourth-and-6 stop of the Owls to take possession on their own 18-yard line. Wilson went right to work setting the tone with nine carries for 64 yards to the Ooltewah 2. His 10th carry of the drive produced the first TD for the Bears from two yards out. Grant Haney made it 7-0 with the extra point.
After forcing an Ooltewah punt, it took just three plays for the next Bradley score. The 78-yard quick march was highlighted by a McClary-to-Marcus Goree Jr. hookup good for 29 yards and a 38-yard TD run by McClary that made it 14-0 with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
After again holding the Owls on fourth down, the Bears put a final seven points on the board on their next possession.
Wilson gashed the Ooltewah defense for 31 yards on the first carry of the drive to the Owls' 33-yard line. McClary and J'Alan Terry added 29 more on carries of 11 and 18 yards. Wilson put the final touches on the drive from one yard out with his second TD of the night, sending the Bears into the half with a 21-0 lead.
Wilson walked off Jim Jarvis Field with 102 first-half yards on 12 carries and a pair of TDs.
“It's been that way all year,” Floyd said of the Bears' work horse. “I'm sure somebody's going to come up with a plan, probably next week, to try and defend him. He's who we have relied on all season and obviously we will continue to do that.”
McClary made the most of his three carries on the night with 60 yards and a score.
“He's a dual threat guy. He can use his legs as well as his arms and tonight we were able to open up a little bit,” said Floyd.
The Bears went right back to work as the curtain rose on the second half.
Wilson moved the leather from his own 10 to the 35 on three touches. From there, McClary found Goree for a pitch and catch good for 37 yards. Seconds later it was McClary to Goree once again, this time for 33 yards and the fourth Bears' touchdown of the game. Haney's PAT made it 28-0 with just 2:57 burned off the third-quarter clock.
An Ooltewah punt set Bradley up in business at their own 22-yard line with eight minutes left in the third quarter. Once again, Wilson went to work following his offensive line seven times to the Owls' 25. From there, it was Terry in the spotlight with three carries to the Ooltewah 4-yard line. The Bears' freshman easily covered the final yards for the score. The Haney kick made it 28-0.
Floyd praised the work of his big men up front. The Bears' defense held the Owls to just 17 yards on the ground.
“They have been winning the battle for us, the offensive and defensive lines. That's how you win games,” he said.
The Owls broke up the shutout with just under two minutes left in the game with an 84-yard touchdown pass. The PAT attempt missed and the Bears walked away with 28-point victory.
The Bears will put their undefeated streak on the line in Knoxville Friday as they return to the region schedule against the 3-4 Farragut Admirals.
“We've already moved on to Farragut," Floyd said after the victory over Ooltewah. "We'll get started on them, now.”
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.
Late Bear FG Sinks Admirals
By GARY OWNBEY
FARRAGUT — Fifth-ranked Bradley Central pulled out a spine-tingling 31-28 victory over old nemesis Farragut Friday night when junior kicker Era Rojas nailed a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Thwarting the upset bid by the Admirals keeps the Bear record unspoiled, improving to 8-0, plus secures them a home game in the opening round of the TSSAA Playoffs the first Friday in November.
It also sets the stage for the Region 2-6A Championship battle at No. 2-ranked Maryville (8-0) in two weeks as both teams are 4-0 in league play. The 18-time state champion Red Rebels thrashed winless Hardin Valley 61-3 Friday.
The win marked the first time since the TSSAA Championship season of 1976 that Bradley has started a season with eight consecutive wins. The ’76 team went on to claim the Class AAA state championship with a three-overtime, 50-48 thriller over Jackson Central-Merry.
The Bears will have little time to celebrate a rugged state-ranked Rhea County team (6-2, 4-0 in Region 4-5A) coming to Bear Stadium this Friday with a 7 p.m. kickoff for Senior Night festivities. An always tough and physical Bradley opponent, the Region 4-5A champion Golden Eagles are coming off a 46-0 thumping of region foe Howard.
Farragut (3-5, 1-3) will also step out of region Friday at Fulton (5-3) before taking on archrival Bearden (3-5, 2-2) in the regular season finale.
The Admirals need to beat the Bulldogs, which nipped Cleveland (5-3, 1-3) 14-10 Friday, plus have the Blue Raiders get upset by Hardin Valley to make the playoffs. If Farragut and Cleveland both win the finales, it would create a three-way logjam for the final two postseason berths.
Things started out on a high note for Bradley Friday when Farragut mishandled the opening kickoff, giving the Bears excellent field position at the Admiral 12-yard line.
However, after three plays netted just one yard, Bradley attempted a 28-yard field goal by junior Grant Haney only to have it blocked by junior quarterback and special-team player Dawson Moore.
Reese Keeney, another two-way player, scooped up the blocked kick and returned it to the Bear 48-yard line to set the Admirals up in great field position.
The host Admirals needed just three plays to find the end zone as wide receiver Trace Corum scrambled the final 13 yards to put the Bears in a quick 7-0 hole, with junior Reese Keeney tacking on the PAT less than two minutes into the game.
After the teams swapped possessions in the first quarter, the Bears came to life when sophomore Jackson Wilson raced 67 yards for what appeared to be a game-tying score, only to have a chop block penalty nullify his effort.
Not to be stymied though, Bear senior quarterback Aiden McClary connected with sophomore Marcus Goree Jr. for an 82-yard bomb on the very next play and the Bears were in business after Haney's PAT tied the game 7-7 with 21 ticks left in the opening quarter.
Although Farragut couldn't get anything going on the ensuing series, all-state punter Keeney pinned the Bears at their own 2-yard line. The Bears managed one first down before giving up the ball and setting up the Admirals with another short-field opportunity at the Bear 36.
Farragut took advantage of their field position with a 14-yard pass from Moore to Ben Reed allowing them to regain the lead at 14-7 with 6:54 remaining in the first half.
Bradley "Super Soph" Wilson was held intact for the most part in the first half as the Admiral defenders keyed on stopping the Bear workhorse, who had been averaging nearly 200 yards per game through their first seven wins.
Wilson netted just 40 yards on 17 carries in the first half and the Admirals took the lead to the halftime locker room.
After both teams swapped opening drives without a score in the third quarter, the Bears began to change offensive strategies with quarterback McClary running for 10+ yards on three different occasions on the ensuing drive as the Bears marched 73 yards on 10 plays with McClary capping the drive with a 10-yard score. Haney’s PAT was good and the game was tied at 14-14 with 3:29 in the third quarter.
The Bear defensive front came alive in the second half and forced Farragut into four consecutive "three-and-out” situations.
In the meantime, the Bears began an 11-play, 90-yard drive that carried over into the fourth quarter as they took their first lead on the night when McClary hooked up with freshman J’Alan Terry for a 38-yard touchdown at 8:36 in the game. Haney’s PAT was blocked and the Bears held a precarious six-point lead at 20-14.
After another Farragut punt, the Bears coughed up the football on the first play of the series, once again giving the Admirals excellent field position at the Bear 27.
Two plays later Trace Corum streaked 25 yards for the go-ahead score as Keeney knocked home the PAT for a 21-20 lead at 5:26 in the game and the Bear fans were on edge.
Not to be outdone, the Bears responded with an 80-yard drive in eight plays as McClary and Wilson carried the ball, with a 25-yard pass to Goree mixed in, before Wilson rambled the final 26 yards for his lone score of the game to make it 26-20.
With a razzle-dazzle play pulled from the playbook, the Bears converted the 2-point PAT with freshman Mason Goree finding McClary in the end zone for a 28-21 lead and only 2:14 left in regulation.
“It’s a play we work on during practice and you never know if you’ll ever use it, but it came in handy tonight. It worked exactly how we needed it to work to keep the lead at seven,” related veteran Bradley head coach Damon Floyd.
“I also want to give a lot of credit to my assistant coaches, who never get the recognition they deserve. They helped put together the game plan and this was a great win that guarantees we’ll open the playoffs with a home game.”
With the game winding down the Bears began their game-winning drive from their 20-yard line after another Keeney kickoff into the end zone.
Junior WR Taylor Duggan made an acrobatic catch on third-and-10 to keep the Bear drive alive and move the chains.
Bradley gambled on fourth-and-one at the Farragut 47 and McClary picked up a crucial first down on a 7-yard run with under a minute to play.
A pass interference call against the Admirals moved the ball to the 25-yard line and the Bears called time after a running play and an incomplete pass left just five seconds on the clock.
With the possibility of overtime looming, a cool and calm Rojas drove home the 41-yard game-winning field goal and the celebration began on the field for the visiting Bears as the Farragut fans sat stunned.
“I warmed up on the sidelines and I knew my team had my back. We are a family and held together. This was a huge win for us and I want to thank my coaches for their confidence in me,” he related in a post-game interview.
“We dodged several bullets,” an elated Coach Floyd proclaimed after the game. “We never gave up anytime during the game. I wouldn’t have been upset if we had missed the field goal at the end of the game and had to play overtime but it worked out great for us.”
Rojas had been sharing kicking duties with Haney throughout the season with Coach Floyd making the call to give him a chance to win the game in regulation.
“Era has had a few issues this season, but he is very accurate and came through for us tonight,” the "Papa Bear" explained. “He and Grant cheer for and encourage each other no matter who is sent into kick. One thing I can say about this team is that they love each other and have each other’s back whether they are on the field or as a backup player.”
With another 30 carries for 137 yards, plus a trio of catches for another 24, Wilson upped his season numbers to 1,663 all-purpose yards (1,506 rushing, 157 receiving), plus now has 16 TDs on the campaign. He has averaged 7.6 yards on 219 touches in the first eight games.
After an early season injury limited his mobility, McClary had 17 rushing attempts for 108 yards and a score, plus he added a pair of TD tosses on 13-of-28 attempts for 214 yards, his high-water mark for the season.
Goree led the aerial assault with four receptions and a score, with Terry also hauling in four passes for 53 yards. Duggan added two catches for 20 yards, including his leaping grab in the final drive that helped keep possession for the Bears.
Defensively, 17 different Bears were credited with tackles. Sophomore LB Rodney Williams led the "Black Hole" charge with 10 total (4 solo/6 assists), including 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage, including 1.5 QB sacks.
Junior Gage Anderson was in on a half dozen hits (2/4), with a sack in 1.5 TFL, while senior Wayne Dayton collected five (4/1) total takedowns.
Junior JD Kirkpatrick had a trio of solos tackles, plus an assist, with two TFL and a sack.
Sophomore Jarrius Rogers, wearing the familiar No. 7 of injured teammate Fin Mertens, was promoted to the varsity and responded with four tackles (3/1) and was also used as a punt returner for the Bears.
“I’ve told the guys that they never know when the opportunity will come for them to be big contributors for the team. They have to practice hard and be prepared. I’m proud of several of them stepping up with the injuries to Fin (arm) and Simon (Mullis). It was a total team win tonight,” a happy Coach Floyd concluded after the game.
“I have a lot of memories on this field and a lot of them are not too good. I can’t say enough about our efforts tonight. We refused to give up and we got the huge region win that guaranteed us a home game to open the playoffs.”
Bears Take Bite Out of Bulldogs
By ADAM BELFORD
Getting off to their best start since 2016, fifth-ranked Bradley Central remains undefeated after notching another key Region 2-6A victory Friday evening, at Jimmie Lovell Field.
It wasn't pretty, but the Bears took the bite out of the Bulldogs of Bearden by a 28-16 for their third region win of the season. Bradley is now 6-0 on the year, while Bearden drops to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in region play.
"A win's a win," stated veteran "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd after his squad gave the ball away three times in the contest. "It was ugly at times, but we were able to do enough to get the win.
"Our offensive line did another great job. Jackson Wilson had another big game," he said of the sophomore running back's fourth straight 200-plus yard performance.
Wilson led all players with 230 all-purpose yards, including 220 on 36 carries, plus 10 more on a pair of catches, finding the end zone three times. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has 1,326 total yards, averaging over eight yards a touch, so far this season with 16 TDs.
Bradley steps out of region play this week, making the short trip down the interstate to take on the Ooltewah Owls Friday, with a 7:30 kickoff.
Bearden will take the week off before hosting Cleveland on Oct. 15, for their fourth region matchup.
After forcing a Bradley punt on Friday's opening series, Bearden got on the scoreboard first with a seven-play, 58-yard drive, which resulted in a 29-yard Eric Ford field goal, with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
The Bears quickly answered with a scoring drive of their own. Starting at the Bearden 38 after a 60-yard kickoff return by sophomore Marcus Goree Jr., the Bears used Wilson to power through to the three-yard line, before he punched it in on the next play to give Bradley the lead that visitors never matched.
The "Black Hole Defense" forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then on the second play of the second quarter Wilson broke through for a 25-yard touchdown run for his sixth straight touchdown, dating back to last week.
The Bulldog offense then appeared to be getting off the field quickly again but recovered a muffed punt on the Bradley 34. Bearden was able to drive it down to the 9, but the Bear defense quickly swallowed up Nico Young for a no-yard rush and forced a pair of incomplete passes to force a field goal. Ford then split the uprights on a 26-yarder, but it was called back because of an illegal procedure penalty. Ford was wide left on the second attempt this time from 41-yards out to keep it 14-3.
After a pair of stops, Bradley worked on their two-minute offense, getting the ball on their own 20 with 1:57 to go before the half. This time the Bears used an air raid, methodically marching down the field using nine plays and all 80 yards to score their third touchdown of the half, this time on an Aiden McClary five-yard pass to Goree, with 12 ticks to go.
After punts by both teams to start the third, Bearden got the ball on its own 33 and began to drive. The Bulldogs converted three third downs on their way to their first touchdown of the game on a Drew Parrott 6-yard pass to Seth Arana to complete the 12 play, 67-yard, 4:14 drive.
The Bears looked poised to answer with a touchdown of their own, but a McClary pass was picked off by Ford. However, no damage was done as the Bear defense allowed the Bulldogs to pick up only four yards on the drive, to get the ball back at their own 32.
Bradley used the run game to control the tempo, with no pass plays for the rest of the game.
Wilson rushed for 13 yards on four consecutive plays, then McClary chipped in with a six-yard dash of his own. Wilson then took a big gain with a 14-yard run and 15 more were tacked on due to a face mask penalty.
Wilson then punched it in from four yards out to complete the 10 play, 68-yard, drive to put the Bears up 18.
Bearden was not done though as they had a quick drive of their own, capped off by a Parrott pass to Arana for one yard after going 63 yards on six plays and only 1:40 seconds. The Bulldogs elected to go for two to close the gap but Parrot could not complete the pass the game remained a 12 point contest.
The Bulldogs still had some fight left starting with recovering their own onside kick at the Bear 47 yard-line. Parrott then looked to be in a groove, completing five straight passes to put them on the Bear 25. Then, Parrot could not find the hands of his next two receivers and turned it over on downs with 1:35 remaining as the Bears held on for the 28-16 win.
McClary went 13-for-18 passing for 102 yards and one touchdown. Karter Howard caught every ball he was targeted finishing the game with four receptions for 25 yards.
Goree had three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown with 81 yards on kick returns. Freshman J’Alan Terry had three catches for 30 yards and 33 yards after the catch.
Parrott went 18-for-31 passing for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Sam Tummins was his primary target with 11 targets and seven catches for 118 yards with 82 coming after the catch.
Arana caught both touchdown passes with three receptions for 17 yards. Young was the primary rushing with 43 yards on 14 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball, while Blake Johnson, Wayne Dayton, and Josh Helsdon recorded five each.
Young paced Bearden with nine, as Arana brought down seven Bears and Kai Young stopped five.
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.
The Bradley JV football team defeated Rhea County 52-12. The JV Bears complete the season undefeated at 8-0. Congrats to Coach Dills, the team and the rest of the staff on a successful season.
Eagles Snap Bears' Winning Streak
By JOE CANNON
"Knowing what somebody does and stopping it is two different things," veteran Bradley Central head coach Damon Floyd stated earlier this week.
His fourth-ranked (6A) Bears knew No. 11 (5A) Rhea County was a running team, but despite not being able to stop them from rolling to over 400 yards and a half dozen scores on the ground, it was a 66-yard pass with 83 seconds remaining that spoiled Bradley's Senior Night festivities, plus its perfect record.
Handing the host Bears (8-1) their first loss of the season in a 48-42 shootout, the Region 4-5A champion Eagles (7-2) snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Bears.
Rhea came out strong and raced out to a 35-14 advantage, but the Bradley battled back with 28 straight points to take the lead before the visitors found the end zone twice in the final six minutes of the contest to pull out the exciting victory.
"It's frustrating to know what's coming and not be able to slow it down," declared Coach Floyd. "We didn't read our keys on every play and gave up too many long touchdowns.
"I'm proud of the way our kids fought back to take the lead, but we had three turnovers (one just four yards from the end zone) and you can't do that against a good team like that.
"We hate to lose, but it doesn't change who we are and what we do," he added. "We'll come in Sunday and start to get ready to face one of the best teams (18-time state champ Maryville) in the state with a chance to win the region championship."
The No. 2-ranked Red Rebels (9-0, 4-0 Region 2-6A) are coming off a 35-7 thrashing of top-ranked (5A) Knox West Friday evening.
"We know it's a tough challenge (Maryville has won 136 straight region games), but we're going to go give them all we've got," the "Papa Bear" proclaimed. "No matter what happens next week (the TSSAA Playoffs) everyone starts over and we get to start it (the postseason) with a home game.
"Win or lose next week, we've still got a lot to play for," he added as his Bears will be making their 13th straight playoff appearance, advancing to the second round last fall as well as the state quarterfinals in 2017.
Not having defeated Bradley since 1994 (the teams don't play every season), Rhea came out out of the gate firing on all cylinders Friday evening.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Eagle sophomore Ethan Davis exploded for the first of his five touchdowns on the night with a 62-yard dash, almost untouched to paydirt on the first play from scrimmage.
Rhea junior kick Caleb Ruehling split the uprights for the first of seven PATs just 14 seconds into the contest.
After the Bear offense picked up one first down before having to punt the ball away, the Boys from Evensville put together a nine-play, 56-yard scoring march with sophomore Briley Mayberry doing the honors from nine yards out with 4:04 left in the opening quarter.
After the ensuing kickoff, Bradley lost a couple of yards when the ball carrier slipped down and then had an incomplete pass before senior QB Aiden McClary hit J'Alan Terry on a crossing screen pass the freshman speedster turned into a 55-yard YAC for a touchdown. Junior Grant Haney tacked on the extra point to cut the lead in half at the 3:03 mark.
Just 48 ticks later Rhea was in the end zone again, after a 71-yard Davis dash on the second play of the series.
Not to be outdone, the Bears answered with a 74-yard return of the ensuing kickoff by senior Wayne Dayton in just seven seconds. Haney wrapped up the 35-point opening quarter with the PAT kick.
The scoring continued in the second frame with the visitors putting together all run eight-play drive with yet another sophomore ball carrier, Hunter Crowe breaking loose for the final 25 of the 68-yard series.
The Eagles got another chance just three plays later with the first of two interceptions on the evening.
Senior Jaden Pankey returned the "pick" 15 yards to the Eagle 31, sparking a nine-play drive that led to Davis scooting in from 24 yards out. Ruehling was true on the PAT for the 35-14 advantage with 5:47 on the first half clock.
Not ready to surrender, Bradley marched a total of 95 yards, overcoming a pair of penalties for 30 yards on the same play against them, in nine plays to answer.
Sophomore sensation Jackson Wilson, who finished with 172 yards (101 rushing, 71 receiving), breaking free for the final 20 to pay dirt.
After a block in the back penalty on the ensuing kickoff pinned Rhea on its own 11, junior Gage Anderson and Dayton nailed Davis for no-gain on the first play. On the next snap, Anderson and sophomore Rodney Wilson trapped Eagle QB Kaleb Martin and forced him out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 1:38 to go in the quarter.
After a block in the back penalty on the Bears negated a Terry kick return to the Eagle 40, the hosts wisely used their time outs and sidelines to get in 13 plays, covering the 68 yards needed to score. Wilson took a direct nap and plunged in from the 1 with seven seconds remaining to trim the halftime deficit to 35-30.
Despite 65 points lighting up the scoreboard in the opening 24 minutes, the third quarter was pretty quiet with Bradley taking the kickoff and driving eight plays to the Eagle 3 before the ball was knocked free and Eagle Drew Fisher pounced on it.
After giving up a first down, the "Black Hole Defense" forced the first Rhea punt of the evening, giving the ball back to the Bear offense at its own 33.
Wilson gained two yards on the first play of the series, before catching a swing pass from McClary and turning it into a 27-yard gain. McClary took over on the next play scrambling for a 38-yard scoring run to give Bradley its first lead of the night.
Up by a point, the Bears went for two on the PAT, but McClary was stopped just short of the goal line.
The Bradley "D" followed with its only three-and-out of the evening, giving the ball back to the offense at its own 24. Chewing up the clock, the Bears used 11 plays to get into scoring position again, with McClary slipping in from the 2.
An unsportsmanlike penalty on the scoring play backed up the PAT attempt and although Haney's 34-yard attempt had the leg, it slipped just outside the left upright, leaving it a 42-35 tally with 9:52 to go.
Showing why their only losses this season have come to top-ranked (3A) Alcoa and No. 3 (4A) Elizabethton, who have combined to win nine state titles in the last decade, Rhea took the kickoff and marched into Bear territory.
After getting to the Bradley 29, the "Black Hole Defense" stiffened with Dayton making a five-yard tackle behind the line and junior JD Kirkpatrick adding a QB sack for another three yards loss.
However, faced with a third-and23, Rhea completed just its second pass of the night, this one to Mayberry, who turned it into a 25-yard gain to "move the sticks." On the next play Davis took the "rock" in on a 17-yard scamper and Ruehling evened the score with 5:44 on the clock.
Bradley picked up a first down on the ensuing drive, but got stalled at midfield and had to punt the ball away.
Taking over on its own 10, after a holding penalty, Rhea ran the ball three straight times, before Martin connected with Davis, who broke free for a 66-yard reception for the game-winning score with 1:23 remaining.
The Eagles sealed the upset when Bryce Dupree picked off the second interception of the contest three plays after the final kickoff. Rhea was able to run out the clock for the six-point victory.
"We missed out on a good chance to score (to open the second half), but we still fought back and had the lead, but we didn't hold on to it," lamented Coach Floyd. "We gave up too many long touchdowns (six of the seven Eagle scores were from 17-71 yards out)."
Although his defense was missing four starters, the Bear mentor wouldn't make excuses. "Injuries are part of the game. We've always said, 'Next man up.' We won't use that as a crutch or an excuse.
"Rhea is a very good team and we won't try to take anything away from them. They beat us tonight."
The Eagles finished with 526 yards of offense, gaining 406 on 52 rushes and another 120 on just 3-of-6 passing.
Davis carried the "rock" 29 times for 284 yards, plus pulled in a pair of aerials for another 95.
The Bear "D" was led by Rodney Williams with eighth solo tackles in 10 total takedowns, while fellow sophomore Tito Williams also had 10 hits, with a half dozen solos, plus he forced fumble.
Kirkpatrick had a big night with nine solo tackles, including a TFL and a sack, while Anderson made four of his seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack and teaming with Rodney Williams for the safety.
Junior LB Knox Watson helped out with four solos and a pair of assisted tackles.
Offensively for the Bears, Wilson went over 1,800 all-purpose yards (1,607 rushing, 230 receiving) on the season and brought his TD total to 19.
McClary completed 15-of-24 passes for 269 yards and ninth TD on the campaign, plus carried the ball 14 times for 96 yards and a pair of scores.
Terry hauled in a couple of passes for 64 yards and his score, plus had a trio of rushes for another 26 yards. Sophomore Marcus Goree Jr. lead the Bear receiving corps with four catches for 96 yards.