The District 5-AAA football clash between Cleveland and East Hamilton on Friday turned out to be two different games.
Offenses dominated the first half.
Defenses got downright nasty after halftime.
In the end, East Hamilton escaped with a 21-20 victory behind Tre Herndon’s two touchdowns and a clutch fumble recovery by Griffin Reagan that wiped out a potential third-quarter Cleveland score.
Herndon, who has committed to Vanderbilt, returned a Cleveland kickoff 81 yards for his first touchdown and then turned a 1-yard pass in the left flat from quarterback Hunter Moore into a 65-yard score to cap the Hurricanes’ 21-point second quarter.
“Both of them were exciting plays and a huge blessing,” Herndon said.
After Cleveland forced a punt on East Hamilton’s first possession of the third quarter, the Blue Raiders drove from their own 32 to the Hurricanes’ 38.
On the next play, quarterback Austin Herink connected with Eric Goodwin, who darted through the secondary and headed toward paydirt. Goodwin was hit from behind, fumbled near the goal line and in a mad scramble in the end zone Reagan came up with the loose ball for a touchback.
“Garrett Campbell chased the guy down and knocked the ball out,” Reagan said. “Big Jordan Wallace and a Cleveland guy tried to fall on the ball, but I was able to get it. That was pretty exciting.”
East Hamilton threatened on the ensuing drive, methodically marching from its 20 to Cleveland’s 4.
That’s when running back David Whiteside fumbled and Cleveland’s Jonathan Terrero made the recovery.
The teams twice exchanged punts and Cleveland had one more chance to score.
Starting from the Blue Raiders’ 38, Raekwon Bunion gained a yard, but East Hamilton was penalized for a facemask infraction, advancing the ball to the Hurricanes’ 46.
On first down, a bad snap cost the Blue Raiders 2 yards.
Then Herink dropped a snap and lost 7 yards.
On third down, Herink was pressured out of the pocket and scrambled for 5 yards.
On fourth-and-14 and with 3.5 seconds on the clock, Herink dropped back, moved to his left and threw long. The ball sailed out of bounds and the game was over.
“This is a huge win,” Reagan said. “It shows our defense can step up. I think this sends a message that we’re still in this thing. We made some mistakes, but we got the win.”
The Hurricanes, ranked fifth in Class AAA by murphyfair.com, improved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in District 5-AAA. Their only loss was a 28-26 decision to rival Ooltewah, which stands atop the standings at 3-0 after a 28-26 win over Bradley Central.
Cleveland fell to 4-2 and 2-1.
“I hurt,” Blue Raiders coach Ron Crawford told his team. “We have to dust this off and change our course next week. We gave great effort and kept fighting.”
Crawford was asked about the final play of the game.
“You’ve got to throw it in the end zone right there,” he said. “They blitzed instead of playing coverage and got (Herink) off his spot. In that situation you’re just hoping you can make a play, but we weren’t able to tonight.”
Cleveland had 364 yards of total offense, 145 on the ground and 219 through the air. Herink went 17-of-26 with one interception, but the Hurricanes couldn’t capitalize on that opportunity.
D.J. Jones, the Blue Raiders’ most potent receiving weapon, caught four passes for only 16 yards. However, Tyler Davis had four receptions for 104 yards, including a circus catch on a 36-yard touchdown play in a wild second quarter.
“Austin put it over the top, I faded to it and just made the magic happen,” Davis said. “I got it about 2 feet off the ground. I’d say it’s one of my best catches. I’ve made one in seven-on-seven that’s my personal favorite, but this one counts.”
Goodwin had seven catches for 72 yards.
East Hamilton was most effective through the air as well.
Quarterback Hunter Moore, who has committed to Central Arkansas, completed 19-of-27 passes for 278 yards, including the touchdown to Herndon.
Herndon finished with four catches for 90 yards.
Cleveland’s defense stymied the Hurricanes’ ground game. The Hurricanes ran 29 running plays and gained a meager 13 yards. Matt Milita was the leading rusher with 37 yards on 20 carries. Moore finished with minus 24 yards on eight tries. He was sacked twice.
“That’s a pretty good team over there,” said Moore, who had passed for 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns coming into Friday’s game that drew a full-house at East Hamilton. “They were more physical than we expected and got after us from the get-go.”
Cleveland struck first, marching 80 yards in nine plays with Jones scoring from 2 yards out with 8:57 left in the first quarter. The big play was Herink’s 48-yard pass to Davis that moved the Blue Raiders to the Hurricanes’ 9.
East Hamilton answered with a 67-yard, 13-play drive that ended the first quarter and spilled over into the second.
Moore converted two clutch passes to keep the drive in motion. On third-and-five from Cleveland’s 27, he hit Joel Denton for a 16-yard gainer. On third-and-nine from the 10 his 8-yard strike to Milita pushed Cleveland’s back to the wall at the 1.
Moore called his own number on fourth down, sneaking inside the 1 for a first down. On the next play Milita bulled in for the touchdown and Casey Malone’s extra point gave East Hamilton a 7-6 lead.
On Cleveland’s ensuing possession, the Blue Raiders again went 80 yards – this one took 12 plays – and regained the lead at 13-7 on T.J. Parker’s 3 yard touchdown run and Oscar Galvan’s extra point with 4:57 left before halftime.
Herndon was up next.
The senior wide receiver/cornerback took the kickoff at the 19, jitterbugged a bit near the 25 and then dashed down the left sideline 81 yards for a touchdown 13 seconds after Cleveland’s score.
“On the first kickoff I didn’t get what I wanted,” Herndon said. “When I get a kickoff I want to return it. I had to redeem myself. I got the second one and had to execute it.”
The electrifying return gave East Hamilton a 14-13 lead.
Later, Cleveland forced a punt and the Hurricanes’ Malone dropped the snap and barely got off a hurried 13-yard kick, setting up the Blue Raiders at East Hamilton’s 39.
Two plays later, Herink lobbed the 36-yard bomb to Davis in the end zone. The Blue Raiders went up 20-14.
East Hamilton got the ball back at its 36 with 53.1 seconds left in the second quarter.
Milita was stopped for no gain.
Moore took a one-step drop and fired to Herndon in the left flat. Herndon zipped down the sideline and past the Cleveland defense 64 yards for a score 11 seconds before halftime.
“I got the ball and the adrenaline was pumping,” he said, “the ball is in my hands and I just made the play. I got great blocking by some other players and I used my speed to get on the outside.”
With the final horn East Hamilton celebrated.
Cleveland dealt with disappointment.
“It’s a tough loss,” Davis said. “We have to fight through. We have three games left and the district is not lost. We have to have short memories and bounce back.”
Cleveland 6 14 0 0 – 20
East Hamilton 0 21 0 0 – 21
CL – D.J. Jones 4 run (kick failed), 8:57
EH – Matt Milita 1 run (Casey Malone kick), 8:47
CL – T.J. Parker 3 run (Oscar Galvan kick), 4:57
EH – Tre Herndon 81 kickoff return (Malone kick), 4:44
CL – Tyler Davis 36 pass from Austin Herink (Galvan kick), 1:00
EH – Herndon 64 pass from Hunter Moore (Malone kick), 0:11
First Downs 20 18
Rushes-Yards 33-145 29-13
Passing Yards 219 278
Total Yards 59-364 56-291
Com.-Att.-Int. 17-26-1 19-27-0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 4-33 6-27
Penalties-Yds. 0-0 7-74
RUSHING — Cleveland: T.J. Parker 15-75, Raekwon Bunion 6-58, D.J. Jones 4-16, Austin Herink 8-minus 4; East Hamilton: Matt Milita 20-37, David Whiteside 1-0, Hunter Moore 8-minus 24.
PASSING — Cleveland: Herink 17-27-1-219; East Hamilton: Moore 19-27-0-278.
RECEIVING — Cleveland: Tyler Davis 4-104, Eric Goodwin 7-72, Parker 2-25, Jones 3-11, Parker Smith 1-7; East Hamilton: Tre Herndon 4-90, Austin Gatewood 4-56, Justin Denton 3-39, Tyler Lowery 2-28, Bailey Lenoir 1-25, Milita 3-22, Whiteside 2-18.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)