CLEVELAND, Tenn. — If nothing else, the Bradley Central football team has become a resilient bunch. As teammates keep dropping like flies with injuries, the players still standing have found a way to compete and pull out wins.
That was very much the case Friday night.
Led by some clutch plays by quarterback Bryce Copeland and their defense, the visiting Bears held off Walker Valley 27-21 at "The Corral." The victory gives Bradley a 3-1 record in District 5-AAA -- same as Cleveland, the Bears' opponent next week.
Copeland finished with 201 yards passing and 43 rushing but had two scores called back -- a 1-yard run overturned by the officials and a 64-yard run wiped out because of a holding call. Tailback Logan Fetzner had 97 yards rushing and a score.
Walker Valley's Justin Ware finished with 124 yards rushing on 21 carries. His second touchdown, a 4-yard run with 8:30 left in the game, cut the lead to 24-21, but Bradley answered with a 13-play, 43-yard drive that milked almost six minutes of game time. Kicker Clayton Steels kicked a 37-yard field goal for the six-point edge.
Bradley (5-3 overall) then iced the game when Cal Pickel intercepted a Garrett Wallace pass with 1:42 to go.
The Bears, after being penalized nine times for 65 yards in the first half, had only two infractions in the second half. Already decimated by injuries, they lost Dee Crisp -- their leading receiver and big-play threat -- to a possible concussion in the second half.
"Obviously, it was a tough game, but I thought we overcame adversity very well," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said. "We've had no choice but to battle back from injuries. It seems like every week someone goes down, but the next guy has always stepped up. We've got a lot of fight and brotherhood on this team."
The Bears took a 14-0 lead early as Copeland had a 38-yard touchdown pass to Crisp and Fetzner added a 21-yard run late in the first quarter. The Mustangs battled back in the second quarter, and touchdown runs by Ware and Reggie Mills sandwiched Steels' first field goal from 38 yards out.
Walker Valley (4-4, 1-3) then shut down Bradley on four tries from the 1-yard line and went into the locker room down 17-14.
Caleb Cain picked up some of the slack of Crisp's loss, primarily working underneath routes and finishing with six catches for 75 yards. His 27-yard touchdown reception from Copeland provided the Bears with a 10-point edge in the third quarter.
"I really thought we fought," Floyd said. "The kids never gave up. We had a battle here two years ago, so we know to expect a battle here, and it's a credit to the kids that they kept battling throughout."
The Mustangs showed some resilience as well, and coach Glen Ryan was pleased his defense held the Bears to six points on three trips into the red zone.
"We were down early, but we fought back and had a shot at the end," he said. "My heart goes out to the kids, but I reminded them that we have two games left and we have to finish. We have to put our victories behind us, so we have to put our losses behind us as well."