CLEVELAND, Tenn. — As they head into their bye week, the Cleveland Blue Raiders still feel like some folks are sleeping on their potential.
Such is the case at a football program that is in the same town as the top-ranked team in Class 6A, Bradley Central. Such is the case at a proud program that has its fourth head coach in a decade and is still chasing something, anything resembling the time when it was the talk of the Volunteer State with a 54-game winning streak.
While some of that aura still follows the program, the results haven't as the Blue Raiders haven't won a playoff game since a run to the TSSAA state semifinals in 2013.
Of course, such will be the case when it's currently 0-1 against teams in its own town this season, having lost 20-14 to Class 5A's Walker Valley three weeks ago. But then again, Blue Raiders coach Chandler Tygard said that loss may have awakened his team, which has responded with three consecutive blowout victories, the latest a 51-7 win over Red Bank on Friday night.
Cleveland vs. Red Bank on Sept. 22, 2023
In wins over Farragut, Rhea County and the Lions, Cleveland has scored 142 points while giving up 42.
Suddenly, a Cleveland team people didn't have high hopes for is ranked eighth in 6A and 5-1, with the next three games on its schedule — at Bearden, then at home against Maryville and Bradley Central — now having postseason implications surrounding them.
"We were the team that was going to change the program," said senior Mycah Jordan, who had two touchdowns, including a 53-yard punt return in the third quarter Friday night. "We're the seniors, and we're going to set the standard for everybody else to keep a winning tradition here and bring it back to how it used to be. This has been good, and I think we'll really start rolling by the end of the season."
The Blue Raiders amassed 462 yards of total offense on 53 plays Friday, with a balanced attack that featured 204 rushing yards and 258 passing. Quarterback LJ Adams was 13-for-16 through the air with two touchdowns, plus two more on the ground, while Brian Beard Jr. led the hosts with 81 yards on the ground, including a 33-yarder for the game's first points.
"Tonight was great," he said. "It just shows how we've put in the work and the effort; the score tonight is proof itself of our hard work and dedication."
Defensively, Cleveland held Class 4A's seventh-ranked Lions (3-2) to 168 yards of total offense, although Red Bank lost leading rusher Josiah Featherstone on the game's first drive. Logan McGinnis had a team-high 78 yards, with 47 coming on the visitors' lone touchdown.
Cleveland's defense finished with five sacks.
"The kids are listening more now, they're focused," Tygard said. "They take ownership for their mistakes; they're way more coachable. If we would have lost to Farragut and not Walker Valley, I don't know if that change would have happened the way it did.
"That Walker Valley loss kind of changed our season."
Contact Gene Henley at [email protected].