Maybe it’s time to tag the Ooltewah Owls as the “Comeback Kids.”
The Owls rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to clip Bradley Central, 28-27, on Kyrell Sanford’s 16-yard pass to Fisher Perry in the third quarter and turned the outcome over to the team’s defense.
Three weeks ago, Ooltewah scored on a 55-yard pass from Sanford to T.J.
Taylor with 13 seconds remaining to beat McMinn County, 20-17. That capped a two-play 65 drive that started with 73 seconds on the clock.
On Friday at James N. Monroe Stadium, the Owls shrugged off a sluggish start and rallied from a 14-7 halftime deficit with 27 second-half points, an offensive explosion powered by the hard running and deft passing of Sanford to win 34-20 in a crucial Region 2-6A victory.
With the Owls’ offense and defense coming to life in the second half, they virtually nailed down the region’s No. 2 seed behind No. 1 Maryville, which shellacked Ooltewah 42-0 last week. To finalize the seeding, the Owls (7-2, 4-1) have to beat winless Heritage next week. Heritage (0-9, 0-5) has been outscored 399-83 and that translates into per-game blowouts of 44.3 to 9.2.
“Even though it was the third game of the season, the Bradley win was huge,” Owls coach Scott Chandler said. “Two weeks ago, us beating McMinn was a very important win. Those wins put us in a position to play Maryville for a region title, but well … then we were in position to do what we did tonight and we came out with the win.”
Sanford was again brilliant from the backfield, especially in the second half, as he rushed for 186 yards and touchdown runs covering 60 and 16 yards and went 7 for 16 with 121 yards and TD strikes to Lane Moore for 24 yard and Fisher Perry covering 19 yards.
Sanford displayed his dual-threat talents at an elite level against the Blue Raiders. His 60-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter swung the momentum toward the Owls and even Cleveland’s third TD of the game late in the period didn’t interrupt Sanford’s second-half steamrolling of the Blue Raiders (3-5, 2-3).
“I’m a running back with a good arm,” Sanford said. “Ever since middle school, even back in little league ball, I’ve played running back, outside linebacker and strong safety. In high school, I’ve still got that attitude at the quarterback position, and I don’t mind trading hits. There’s nothing better than that.”
Sanford dished out as many hits to Cleveland defenders as they delivered to him and never once dodged a defender in a one-on-one situation.
“We got down in the red zone twice and had no points,” Cleveland coach Scott Cummings said. “You can’t do that against an explosive team like Ooltewah. They’ve got some great athletes over there. They made more plays than we did in the second half and deserved to win the ballgame.”
Before Ooltewah started scoring with the rapidity of a Gatling gun, Cleveland started out like an upset in the making on Jim Jarvis Field. Jasiah Bowman scored on a 4-yard run. On the Raiders’ next possession starting at their own 33, quarterback Jackson Moore hit talented receiver Robert Fowler on a 64-yard bomb as the first quarter ended.
Cleveland put up 120 of its 153 first-half yards and two touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game.
“In the first quarter, we looked like we didn’t want to be here,” Chandler said. “Everything bad was self-inflicted. At halftime we challenged them to turn up the intensity and play the way we’re capable of playing. When we put offense and defense together we can be pretty hard to handle. We can make things happen on both sides of the ball.”
Ooltewah’s defense held Cleveland to six points the rest of the way.
“We were relentless,” said Owls senior linebacker Malachi Quinn, who intercepted Moore’s final pass of the night to effectively seal the victory. “We do screen drills all the time and I just saw it coming and the ball came right to me. The defense never gave up and I’m so proud of all the guys.
“Last week was something that never happened to me before; Maryville just smacked us in the mouth. We tried to make a statement this week.”
The igniting of Ooltewah’s offense after halftime, started when Cleveland gambled on a fourth-and-4 at the Owls’ 36 and a screen pass went for a 4-yard loss. The offense felt the emotion of that play as well as the Owls’ defense.
On the next play, Sanford bolted up the middle, veered to the right and outran Cleveland defenders 60 yards for a touchdown that brought Ooltewah to within 14-13.
After forcing a punt, the Owls marched 53-yards for the go-ahead touchdown. On fourth-and-five, Sanford gained 6 yards and then hit Lane Moore with a 24-yard TD pass. Braeden Haynes’ kick-after sailed wide left and Ooltewah was up 20-14.
Cleveland tied the game at 20-all when Moore connected with Devarus Bowman on a 54-yard lightning-quick touchdown play with 15.1 seconds left in the third period. Ooltewah’s Andrew Smith blocked the extra-point kick.
Ooltewah responded with gusto.
The Owls zipped 56 yards in nine plays and facing a third-and-11 receiver Fisher Perry make a leaping catch in the back of the end on Sanford’s 19-yard pass on a ball that looked like the high trajectory would take it into the darkness beyond the end zone.
Ooltewah led 27-20.
“We had run that play twice with two incompletions. Coach and I both told Kyrell to throw it again and I’d be open,” Perry said. “I’m so happy I could make that play and all the glory goes to God. It felt great.”
Cleveland marched steadily down field, with the big gainer a 27-yard pass from Moore to Flowers from the Blue Raiders’ 23 to midfield. At the 17, Bowman was stuffed for no gain. On fourth-and-7, Moore gained 3 yards and fumbled and Jarian Green recovered at the Owls’ 12.
After a penalty moved the Owls back to their own 7, Sanford broke loose on a 51-yard gainer to Cleveland’s 42. At the 18, Ooltewah was penalized back to the 13. Sanford was stopped for no gain. Sincere Quinn, who rushed for 117 yards on 20 carries, picked up 2 yards. Sanford scrambled right, cut back to the left and rambled into the end zone to cap the Owls’ scoring.
“We fought hard, put a lot of faith in ourselves and came out with the win,” Sincere Quinn said. “Cleveland’s defense was one of the best we’ve faced. We’re real excited about winning. If we win next week, we’ll be home for our first playoff game and that’s an honor.”
Cleveland 14 0 6 0 – 20
Ooltewah 0 7 13 14 – 34
CLE – Jasiah Bowman 4 run (Kevin Gomez kick), 5:10
CLE – Robert Fowler 64 pass from Jackson Moore (Gomez kick), 0:00
OOL – Tylan Cargle 2 run (Braeden Haynes kick), 5:55
OOL – Kyrell Sanford 60 run (Haynes kick), 5:59
OOL – Lane Moore 24 pass from Sanford (kick failed), 2:24
CLE – Devarus Bowman 54 pass from Moore (kick blocked), 15.1
OOL – Fisher Perry 19 pass from Sanford (Haynes kick), 8:25
OOL – Sanford 16 run (Haynes kick), 0:43
First Downs 12 21
Rushes-Yds 33-175 46-312
Passing Yards 163 121
Comp-Att-Int 7-16-1 7-16-0
Plys-Total Yds 49-338 62-433
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Punts/Avg 3-34 4-25
Penalties-Yds 10-79 11-82
RUSHING – Cleveland: Zay Townsend 9-89, Jasiah Bowman 14-48, Jackson Moore 8-23, Devarus Bowman 2-15; Ooltewah: Kyrell Sanford 16-186, Sincere Quinn 20-117, Tylan Cargle 8-11, Tahj Cargle 1-minus 2.
PASSING – Cleveland: Moore 7-16-1-163; Ooltewah: Sanford 7-16-0-121.
RECEIVING – Cleveland: Robert Flowers 2-91, Devarus Bowman 1-54, Darius Howard 2-14, Deandrez Bridges 1-17, Jasiah Bowman 1-minus 3; Ooltewah: Malachi Quinn 4-71, Fisher Perry 1-19, Sincere Quinn 1-17, Hunter Moss 1-14.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)