KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The first time Knox West routed Cleveland was no fluke.
The Rebels proved that in convincing fashion Friday night at Bill Wilson Field on a frigid night when only one team got hot.
Once-beaten and second-ranked West High followed up a 35-25 thrashing of Cleveland in September with an even more impressive 49-14 shellacking in 35-degree weather on a wet field in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Class 5A semifinals.
“They executed a perfect game,” Cleveland’s senior linebacker Jonathan Terrero said. “There were some holes in our coverage and they found them. I hope they take it all the way, and I think they will. We had a great season and I’ll remember it forever.”
The Rebels (13-1), who have won 12 in a row, advance to the Class 5A championship game on Dec. 6 at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville where they will play unbeaten Henry County (14-0), which knocked off Northeast, 43-14.
“That was not fun for any of us,” Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. “But when all is said and done, we got to the semifinals. We were the last (Chattanooga) area team standing and this will be one Cleveland team we’ll be telling stories about for a long time.”
Cleveland, playing in its first semifinal since 1995 when it won the last of three straight state titles under coach Benny Monroe, ends its season at 10-4.
The loss was hard to swallow because the Blue Raiders felt they could play the Rebels better the second time around.
However, this one was no more of a contest than the regular-season debacle.
The two games were eerily similar.
West punished the Blue Raiders twice and Cleveland kept handing the Rebels gifts and they kept taking full advantage of those opportunities with touchdowns.
In September the Rebels led 28-7 after one quarter.
The first-quarter ended Friday with the Rebels up 21-0.
In both games, West had 35 first-half points.
“When we made a mistake, they made us pay for it,” said Crawford, who wrapped up his second season with the Blue Raiders with an overall sixth semifinal appearance. “We certainly didn’t help ourselves at all. We never got in sync.”
On Friday, the running clock was utilized throughout most of the second half, save a couple minutes in the fourth quarter when Cleveland scored both its touchdowns to slice the margin to 42-14 on back-to-back touchdown passes from Austin Herink to Tyler Davis – both coming against reserve defenders.
In less than three minutes after the Blue Raiders’ second score, West went 47 yards in five plays – all runs by Desmond Thompson – for a touchdown that pushed the margin to 35 points again and the clock ran out quickly. Thompson scored on a 3-yard run.
The real damage was done early before a good turnout – Cleveland probably had more fans in the stadium than West – became chilled to the bone by the cold night air.
Junior Nathan Cottrell was the most effective weapon in a never-ending offensive arsenal deployed by the Rebels. Cottrell, who rushed for 106 yards on five carries and caught two passes for 45 yards – the only two passes Seth Marshall threw – opened the scoring with a 4-yard run.
He later caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Marshall just over three minutes later.
Cottrell’s first score was set up by Jeff Bronner’s 50-yard punt return to the Blue Raiders’ 4. The Marshall-to-Cottrell passing touchdown capped a three-play drive resulting from Bronner’s fumble recovery at the Cleveland 31.
“You can’t fumble six times, or however many times we fumbled, and think you can win,” Terrero said. “Turnovers lose games. And they made great plays against some new defenses we were using for this game.”
The Blue Raiders fumbled five times – four by running back T.J. Parker – and lost two.
West ended the quarter with Justin Hodge’s 3-yard run – that capped a 66-yard, eight-play drive with 1:11 left in the first half.
To show how everything was bouncing the Rebels’ way, Marshall made a bad pitch to a trailing back that lost 8 yards. On the next play, a third-and-11 from the Blue Raiders’ 31, Marshall darted 28 yards for a first down at the Cleveland 3. Hodge scored on the next play.
Cleveland launched a drive late in the third quarter and drove to the Rebels’ 22 and had a first down. Parker lost a yard and Herink, who completed 17-of-34 passes for 230 yards, misfired on three straight attempts – two intended for Parker and one for Parker Smith.
Cottrell bolted 76 yards on the Rebels’ next play to stretch the lead to 28-0.
After turning the ball over on downs on the second straight series, this one at the Rebels’ 29, West went 71 yards on five plays – Marshall dumped off a screen to Cottrell that went for 31 yards – and Max Bacon scored from 15 yards out with 1:02 left in the half.
Things got a little bit worse midway through the third quarter.
Parker picked up 6 yards to the Rebels’ 37, but fumbled and Bacon scooped up the ball and rambled 67 yards for another touchdown.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Herink threw to the corner of the end zone where Davis made an outstanding leaping catch for the Blue Raiders’ first touchdown.
Cleveland gained possession when Austin Bradshaw recovered a Marshall fumble near midfield.
Then Herink, who missed on several long throws – receivers dropped a few passes as well – found Davis on a 65-yard pass-and-catch with 7:44 left in the game.
Davis caught nine passes for 144 yards and both Cleveland touchdowns.
“It was a great ride, one that I’ll never forget,” Herink said. “We knew they had a good team and again we didn’t execute on offense or defense in the first half.”
Cleveland finished with 310 yards of offense, most coming from Herink’s strong left arm. The Rebels’ defense limited the Blue Raiders to 80 rushing yards, 28 in the second half when Herink was forced to throw on 13 of the team’s 22 offensive plays.
The Rebels, who had 284 yards of total offense – 239 on the ground – despite running just one play in the third quarter with a running clock being enforced, built a 35-0 halftime lead and cruised to the easy victory.
“Give West credit,” Crawford said. “We had a difficult time tackling them and we had a difficult time with their inside linebackers with our run game.
Cleveland 0 0 0 14 – 14
Knox West 21 14 7 7 – 49
KW – Nathan Cottrell 4 run (Justin Hodge run), 8:28
KW – Cottrell 14 pass from Seth Marshall (run failed), 5:35
KW – Hodge 3 run (Manny Ruiz kick), 1:11
KW – Cottrell 76 run (Ruiz kick), 7:54
KW – Max Bacon 15 run (Ruiz kick), 1:02
KW – Bacon 67 fumble return recovery (Ruiz kick), 6:15
CL – Tyler Davis 24 pass from Austin Herink (Oscar Galvan kick)
CL – Davis 65 pass from Herink (Galvan kick), 7:44
KW – Desmond Thompson 3 run (Ruiz kick), 5:00
First Downs 17 8
Rushes-Yards 27-80 26-239
Passing Yards 230 45
Total Yards 61-322 28-284
Com.-Att.-Int. 17-34-0 2-3-0
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 2-32.0 2-29.5
Penalties-Yds. 6-36 3-35
RUSHING — Cleveland: Raekwon Bunion 13-51, T.J. Parker 9-27, D.J. Jones 1-3, Austin Herink 4-minus 1; Knox West: Nathan Cottrell 5-106, Seth Marshall 10-61, Desmond Thompson 5-47, Max Bacon 1-15, Christian Romines 1-2, Sam Raines 1-1, Umar Tate 1-minus 5.
PASSING — Cleveland: Herink 17-34-0-230; Knox West: Marshall 2-2-0-45, Raines 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Cleveland: Tyler Davis 9-144, Jones 3-29, Parker Smith 2-25, Bunion 1-20, Brandon Williams 2-12; Knox West: Cottrell 2-45.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)