Cleveland coach Ron Crawford may have best described what happened in Friday's District 5-AAA high school football game at Ooltewah when afterward he said, "I thought both teams made a lot mistakes. We had probably fewer at the end."
As a result, the Blue Raiders won for the first time under Crawford, escaping with a 27-26 victory.
Cleveland (1-2, 1-0) was penalized nine times for 75 yards and lost two of its five fumbles, but that paled in comparison to the Owls' mistakes.
They were penalized 14 times for 118 yards and lost four of their five fumbles. A shanked 8-yard punt set up the Blue Raiders' 44-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:14 to play. C.J. Bryant's diving interception of a Brody Binder pass with 41 seconds left sealed it.
"You can't beat a good team making mistakes like that," Ooltewah coach Shannon Williams said. "We knew we were in for a challenge, coming off an emotional win last week. I didn't do a good enough job having us ready to play. We made too many mistakes early. It seemed like every time we had the chance to do something good, we made a mistake."
Ooltewah (2-1, 0-1) had three turnovers within the first eight minutes, and the first quarter ended with Cleveland leading 14-0. The Owls managed to regroup and outscored the Blue Raiders 17-0 in the second quarter and led at halftime.
Cleveland regained the lead on Austin Herink's 17-yard touchdown pass to Parker Smith on a third-and-12 play, but the Owls got a 3-yard scoring run from Desmond Pittman and their second safety of the game before the third quarter ended and led 26-21 going to the fourth.
The key plays on the winning drive were Bryant's 12-yard gain on a draw on third-and-10 and Herink's hook up with Jackson Earle that moved it from the 12 to first-and-goal at the 1.
"We just made enough plays," Crawford said. "We got the ball back with field position and made a great call getting C.J. the ball on third down. The time worked out good for us."
Ooltewah stuffed the first down play, but Herink sneaked it in on second down. The Owls also stopped the ensuing conversion run.
"The defense didn't lose the game at the end down there," Williams said. "They played their guts out. We made mistakes that put them in that position."
Herink ended up 25-of-43 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Bryant, who caught the other TD pass and also scored on a 36-yard fumble return, was Cleveland's top rusher with 85 yards on 17 carries.
T.J. Davis led Ooltewah with 24 carries for 135 yards and had scoring runs of 45 and 4 yards. Binder was 9-of-22 for 113 yards.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.