Bears Drop Cherokees
By GARY OWNBEY
Unbeaten and 6A’s 9th-ranked Bradley Central Bears (4-0, 1-0 in 2-6A) knocked off the state’s 9th-ranked 5A team when they took a 42-24 win over the McMinn County Cherokees (2-2, 1-0 in 4-5A) in a Thursday night game moved to avoid expected unsettled weather on Friday.
It was the 99th meeting between the Bears and the Cherokees since 1927 and the 55th win in the series for the Bears over the Cherokees, who have come out on top 41 times while there have been three ties.
In a surprise move, the Bears started junior Damarious Ballard at the quarterback position and he led the Bears to their most explosive output of the season with over 400 yards gained by the Bears, many featuring big plays by junior Jarrious Rogers and sophomore J’Alan Terry.
Terry opened the scoring for the Bears in the first quarter with a 78-yard gallop to paydirt on the first play of the Bear’s second possession at the 4:55 mark with senior Grant Haney’s PAT making it 7-0.
It took just five plays for the Bears on their next drive to cover 84 yards when Ballard flashed some passing ability as he connected with Rogers for a 45-yard touchdown. With just 00:45 seconds remaining in the opening period, Haney’s second PAT made it 14-0 Bears and they were off and running.
Except for the two explosive plays by the Bears, the defense was stifling in the first half for both squads. After both teams swapped punts on the next four possessions, the Bears got a scintillating 66-yard return by Rogers that carried to the Cherokee 5-yard line. The Cherokee goal-line defense stiffened but Terry took it in from the 1-yard line on 4th and goal for the Bears. Another Haney kick made it 21-0 and the Bears were thinking half-time with 1:27 left until the break.
McMinn was pushing hard for a score as the first half came to a close but it appeared the Bears had stopped them on 4th-down and six before a penalty gave the Cherokees new life with a first down at the Bear 23-yard line with 4.1 seconds on the clock. A 28-yard field goal by junior Spencer Sullins was good as the clock struck 00:00 ending the half with the Bears leading 21-3.
The Bears had the opening possession to start the second half and made quick work of their first possession with an 80-yard drive in three plays highlighted by a 73-yard touchdown pass from Ballard to Rogers, moving the score to 28-3 with 11:09 to go in the quarter.
But the Cherokees were not to be denied and quickly scored in seven plays covering 81 yards with backup quarterback, senior Caden Hester, carrying the pigskin the final 29 yards for the first Cherokee touchdown of the game.
Hester was filling in for senior Jayden Miller who injured his throwing shoulder in McMinn County's game with Rhea County last Friday. Senior running back Cody Thompson was the workhorse on their drive with six straight carries netting 52 yards to set up Hester’s scoring jaunt. The score stood at 28-10 after Sullins's PAT at the 7:22 mark in the third period.
The momentum was swinging the way of the Cherokees as they held the Bears to a three-and-out and picked up great field position at the Bear 47. It would take the Cherokees just three plays before Thompson ripped off a 41-yard scoring run and suddenly it was 28-17 at 4:07 in the third and the Bear fans were getting concerned.
After the McMinn County score, the Bears quickly rebounded as Ballard found Rogers for a 67-yard pass play to the Cherokee 13-yard line. Terry carried three straight times to move the ball to the 1-yard line where Ballard punched it in for a 35-17 Bear lead following Haney’s fifth successful PAT of the game.
The Bears held on through the next Cherokee possession before taking over at the start of the fourth quarter and chewed up nearly seven minutes on a 13-play scoring drive with Ballard sneaking in from the 3-yard line for a 42-17 lead after Haney’s PAT. With just 4:49 left in the game, the Bear Nation began to relax but the Cherokees were not finished.
Behind the hard-nosed running of Thompson, McMinn drove 71 yards in nine plays with Thompson scampering the final 13 for the score. Sullins's PAT made it 42-24 before the Bears ran out the clock.
A relieved Coach Damon Floyd was upbeat with the win. “I was pleased with some of the explosive plays on offense that we haven’t had before tonight’s game and our defense was really good with the exception of the last McMinn drive in the first half,” he related after the game. “It was a good win for us over a good team. Bo (Coach Cagle) and I have had our differences when we both started coaching but I’ve really grown to respect him and how he runs his program.” Floyd has 17 years under his belt as the ‘papa bear’ while Cagle has 16 years in Athens.
“We still have a lot of work to do so we’ll get on it starting tomorrow,” Floyd added. In regards to playing on Thursday nights he commented, “I love the Thursday game and so do the players. They get an extra day off to just be kids.”
Terry was the workhorse for the Bears with 20 carries for 132 yards and two scores including his 78-yard blast. Ballard had nine carries for 19 yards and two scores to go along with completing eight of 20 passing attempts for 238 yards and an additional two touchdowns. Rogers was making big plays all night with three receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns plus returning three punts for 79 yards.
On the defensive side for Bradley Central, Knox Watson paced the Bears with 13 total tackles while junior AJ Williams, filling in for Anderson, had five tackles. The Bears were penalized five times for 52 yards while the Cherokees saw eight yellow flags thrown their way for 62 yards.
Thompson paced the Cherokees with 26 carries for 167 yards and two scores with Hester contributing 76 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Punter/Kicker Sullins is being pursued by several D1 schools and showed why with seven punts averaging 40.4-yards per punt and forcing touchbacks on three kicks into the end zone to go along with his field goal.
The Bears will hit the road for the first time this season when they venture to Hardin Valley Academy to face the Hawks in a region matchup next Friday with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Bears Blow Out Brainerd
By JOE CANNON
Bradley Central opened its 105th football season with a bang, putting 53 points on the scoreboard in the opening half and then coasting to a mercy-rule victory over Brainerd Thursday evening, at Bear Stadium.
The hosts had just 17 offensive snaps in the first two quarters, but six of them ended in the end zone, plus highly-recruited junior Marcus Goree Jr. ran back a kickoff 61 yards for a score.
The "Black Hole Defense" helped out with a pair of safeties, including senior Gage Anderson sacking the Panther QB in the end zone in the 53-13 blowout.
Opening the new gridiron season with four straight home games, Bradley will now get ready to host Walker Valley in the annual "County Conflict" next Friday, Aug. 26. The Mustangs travel to Chattanooga tonight (Aug. 19) to tangle with Notre Dame in their opener.
After all-state linebacker Knox Watson pounced on a fumble on the second play from scrimmage Thursday and the Bears got their first score of the season two plays later when he caught a 3-yard pass from new starting signal caller Alex Walker. Senior kicker Grant Haney tacked on the first of seven first-half extra points for a 7-0 edge just 1:26 into the contest.
A muffed punt return effort by Bradley set up Brainerd's first score a few minutes later as Martels Carter Jr. carried the ball over from the 4. The PAT made it 7-all with seven minutes to go in the opening quarter, but that was as close as the game got.
Bradley scored on all six of its first half possessions, plus picked up the two safeties and Goree's big scoring runback for a 53-7 advantage at the midway point.
The Bear rushing attack gained 181 yards on 30 carries, including all-stater Jackson Wilson putting up 60 yards on 10 tries, plus he caught a nine-yard scoring pass.
Sophomore J'Alan Terry, the Region 2-6A Newcomer of the Year last season, toted the rock five times for 51 yards, plus pulled in a trio of receptions for another 45, including a 20-yard scoring strike.
Freshman Tyler Cook, the Bear backup QB, gained 32 yards on a couple of carries, while sophomore Landon Scott carried the mail a dozen times for 14 yards for 31 yards and a score on a 10-yard TD dash.
The Bear offense tallied 308 yards, while the "Black Hole Defense" surrendered just 57.
Brainerd was able to take advantage of a second Bear fumble, when the ball was snapped over the QB's head on the first play of the second half. The Panthers Cam Sanders from two yards out five plays later.
"We made a few mistakes we're going to have to clean up, but we also did a lot of things right," declared Damon Floyd, who recorded his 105th victory as he opened his 17th season as Bradley's head coach.
"Marcus (Goree) made a nice runback for a touchdown and Alex Walker did a good job of running our offense," he said of the junior gunslinger who complete 8-of-11 passes for 92 yards and four TDs.
"Jackson (Wilson) and J'Alan (Terry) ran the ball well, as did Landon Scott.
"It's good to get the first win of the season and now we'll start preparing for Walker Valley next week," the "Papa Bear" assessed.
The Bradley JV football team defeated the McMinn County Cherokees 34-7. The 2-1 JV Bears will travel to East Hamilton to face the Hurricanes Monday Sept. 19th. Game time is 6:00. The Cleveland game has been changed to Oct. 3rd.
Haney Boots Bears Past Mustangs
By JOE CANNON
The last two times Walker Valley has stampeded into Bear Stadium they have pushed No. 8 Bradley Central to the limit, but the "Big Brothers" prevailed once again Friday evening.
Overcoming five turnovers, plus a dozen penalties for 123 yards, a last-second 32-yard field goal from senior Grant Haney to rallied the Black-and-Gold for a 22-21 thriller in the annual "County Conflict."
"I didn't care that they tried to ice me (WV called their last timeout before his attempt). I was going to make it," declared Haney, who "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd calls one of the hardest working kickers he's ever seen.
"I just approached it like any other kick. Like I practice all the time, but yes I knew it was to beat Walker Valley and that meant more," Haney said after having an extra-point attempt go wide early in the contest.
While Bradley (2-0) celebrated well into the night after the classic rivalry game, it will turn its attention quickly to arch-rival Cleveland in the "Crosstown Clash," which is the Region 2-6A opener for both teams, this Friday (Sept. 2) at Bear Stadium.
After falling to No. 8 (4A) Red Bank in the season opener 29-15, the Blue Raiders (1-1) bounced back to nip No. 8 (5A) McMinn County 6-3 and will now prepare for their third straight eighth-ranked squad.
Walker Valley (1-1) will continue its three-game road trip to open the campaign Friday (Sept. 2) in Ooltewah for its first Region 4-5A contest.
Playing before a capacity crowd of more than 5,000 fans, the lead changed hands three times in the opening half Friday. The host Bears held a 12-7 edge at the intermission thanks a to a 76-yard fake punt pass from junior Jackson Wilson to classmate Marcus Goree Jr., and a four-yard direct snap run by sophomore J'Alan Terry to cap a 66-yard, eight-play drive. Neither point after touchdown try was successful.
The Mustangs were able to a put together a nine-play, 75-yard march to paydirt in the first possession of the second quarter with junior Evan Schwarzl connecting with senior Tucker Ownby for a 16-yard scoring toss, giving the Herd a 7-6 advantage thanks to an Eli Wilson PAT.
Walker Valley came out strong after the wonderful marching band performances, with Schwarzl finding senior TE Jackson Gibson for a 33-yard score to cap the opening drive of the second half. Eli Wilson tacked on the extra-point for a 14-12 edge.
The Stallions tried to pull away down the stretch, adding a 13-yard Schwarzl hook up with senior Blaine Lowe and a third Wilson PAT boot for a 21-12 advantage with 9:57 on the clock.
On the ensuing possession, Jackson Wilson returned to the Bear lineup after missing a quarter due to an leg injury, carrying the ball nine out of 11 plays, including covering the final two yards on a direct snap with 4:45 remaining. Haney split the uprights to pull the hosts within a 21-19 tally.
The "Black Hole Defense" stuffed the visitors for a three-and-out to set up the game-winning drive. Taking over on its own 46, Bradley rode Wilson seven of eight plays to get the ball to the 12 to set up the game winning kick.
The Bear "D" held the Mustangs for just 225 yards on 47 plays, while the Bradley offense took 62 snaps for 421.
Both rushing for a score, Terry collected 115 yards on 19 rushes, while Jackson Wilson finished with 110 yards on 26 carries, plus he had the 76-yard scoring pass to Goree. Junior Jarrius Rogers pulled in a trio of aerials for 61 yards, including a circus catch.
"J'Alan and Jackson had to carry us and Jarrius Rogers made some great plays, too," Coach Floyd commented.
"Jackson Wilson got banged up on that long run (26 yards midway through the second quarter) and they said he couldn't go. All of a sudden in the fourth quarter, when we went down 21-12, he grabs me on the sideline and says, 'Coach, I'm good.' Obviously, he made a huge difference grinding out first downs. “I knew we had to score twice. You can't say enough at any level about that kind of resolve. Our guys sticking together like that says something about our kids.” said the "Papa Bear," who has been on the sideline of the 17 victories over the Mustangs in 18 tries. "What a great rivalry game. I am so proud of our kids for the fight they had for four quarters. We have a lot to clean up — penalties and turnovers put us in bad situations, but we handled the adversity.
"Those are the things that make a coach proud. Walker Valley is as well coached team as we have played the last four years. It was a great atmosphere for both teams to get to experience. Now on to the next one," he summarized referring the 48th battle with Cleveland Friday.
Although the Blue Raiders hold a 27-20 series edge, the Bears have won the last seven straight.
Senior all-state linebacker Knox Watson paced the "Black Hole Defense," in on with 14 tackles, including one for a loss.
Fellow senior LB Gage Anderson finished with nine takedowns, including one behind the line of scrimmage, and he pared with solo junior LB Rodney Williams for a QB sack. Williams was in on eight tackles, with a 2.5 TFLs and he forced a fumble.
As for the Walker Valley offense, senior Eli Denton led the Herd with 14 carries for 47 yards, while Ownby pulled in a half-dozen aerials for 79 yards. Schwarzl was 9-of-16 for 129 yards and a trio of TD tosses.
A two-time all-state linebacker, Denton did it on both sides of the line leading the "Stallion Stampede" defense with 15 solos tackles and a trio of assists.Junior Jacob Hollingworth helped out with a half-dozen solos in 13 total takedowns and forced a fumble. Senior Chipper Franks made 11 hits, including six solos as well, and recovered a fumble.
Senior captain Brady Montgomery had five solos tackles and assisted on four others and scooped up a Bear fumble. Junior DB Braxton Smith was busy with seven solos, a pair of helps, plus he snatched a couple of interceptions, giving him three on the campaign, returning them a total of 18 yards, and broke up another pass. Ownby was in on a half-dozen takedowns, three by himself and grabbed his second "pick" of the season, returning it 33 yards.
"I could not be more proud of our guys. They left everything they had on that field and can walk away with their heads held high," fourth-year Walker Valley wrangler Drew Akins praised.
"We wanted to go in and earn their respect and I think we did that. It’s hard to not come out on top, but so proud of where we are as a program to make this game a competitive game year in and year out.
"It came down getting the last first down or the last stop and we just weren’t able to do that," he assessed. "Our players laid it all on the line though. Our players will respond. I’m excited to see them grow throughout this 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 Make it Eight Straight over Raiders
By MATT TYSON
Victory did not look certain in the final minutes Friday night, but Bradley Central held off a late threat from Cleveland to claim its eighth-straight "Crosstown Clash."
Hosting the archrival Blue Raiders at Bear Stadium, the Class 6A, No. 10-ranked Bears came out on top 16-10 in the 48th meeting between the old foes.
“Obviously we would’ve liked to score more points, open it up a little bit more, but the way the game went, both defenses were playing really well,” Bradley coach Damon Floyd said.
“The game went really fast. I think we only ran 45 total offensive plays, which is about 15 to 20 less than a normal game. Like I mentioned, the defenses were obviously playing well, so you have to go by the way the game’s going and obviously we’re happy just to hold on.”
Senior kicker Grant Haney got Bradley on the board to get things started, capping off the Bears' opening drive with a 36-yard field goal at the 6:13 mark of the first quarter.
Cleveland answered with a field goal of its own in the second quarter, tying it on a 30-yard kick from senior Bennett Smith with 5:13 left until halftime.
Neither team added any more points through the first half's remainder, sending the game into the break tied at 3-3.
Bradley did not have to wait long to break the tie once the third quarter got under way.
After senior DB Finn Mertins ended Cleveland's opening drive with an interception, sophomore J'Alan Terry capped off the ensuing Bradley possession with a 10-yard touchdown run. The successful Haney extra point attempt made it a 10-3 Bear, lead with 7:03 on the clock.
“Jackson Wilson and Knox Watson gave me great blocks. I just saw the open field and got in the end zone,” Terry said of his touchdown. “I was mentally locked in the whole entire game.”
Still up by seven early in the fourth quarter, a 31-yard field goal from Haney gave Bradley a 13-3 lead with 9:30 left to play.
This field goal ultimately helped the Bears maintain a three-point lead, as the Blue Raiders responded on their next drive with a 21-yard touchdown run from Isaiah Davis with 8:43 remaining to make it a 13-10 game.
Haney once again gave Bradley some more breathing room not long after, closing out the ensuing Bear possession with a 21-yard kick through the uprights with 5:13 on the clock.
Down by six, Cleveland got a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter when a fumble on a Bradley snap set the Blue Raiders up in Bear territory.
Starting on the Bradley 35-yard line, the drive ended on 4th-and-3 at the Bear 17.
The hosts took over from there and proceeded to run out the clock.
Haney was responsible for over half of the Bears’ total points, nailing three field goals and a PAT to finish with 10 points total.
“We practice it every day. In games, I’ve just gotta treat it like a practice kick. If I think about it too much, I’m gonna miss it,” Haney said. “I've just gotta treat it like another kick.”
The Bears finished the night with 197 total offensive yards compared to 210 for Cleveland.
In the passing game, Bradley junior QB Alex Walker went 11-for-14 for 92 yards, but threw two interceptions. Blue Raider senior signal caller Drew Lambert was 7-for-20 for 80 yards with one pick.
Watson had one catch for 57 yards, while Terry and Wilson were more frequent targets for Walker with four catches for 22 yards and five for 19 yards, respectively.
Lambert’s top targets were Mycah Jordan with two catches for 44 yards, as well as Rodney Broadnax with four receptions for 36 yards.
Wilson ran the ball 18 times for 67 yards to lead the Bears’ rushing effort. Davis had 19 carries for 111 yards to lead Cleveland’s ground attack.
The win kept the Bears at a perfect 3-0 start, as well as moved them to 1-0 in the Region 2-6A standings. On the other side, the loss dropped the Blue Raiders to 1-2 and 0-1 in region play.
Bradley remains at home to face McMinn County (2-1) in the state's second-oldest rivalry at 7 p.m. Friday, while Cleveland returns home to host East Ridge at 7:30 the same evening.