CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Having played on Raider Field as a member of the Cleveland football team from 1986 to '89, Kelvin Wells Sr. had a little bit of advice for his namesake son - a McMinn County senior running back - before the Cherokees' big District 5-AAA clash Friday against Cleveland.
"He just told me to represent and make him proud," Wells Jr. said. "Even though I was on the opposing team, he told me it was a great field and I needed to have a lot of fun."
And "have a lot of fun" was what he did.
Wells ran for 316 yards and two touchdowns as the Cherokees seized control of the district race with a 26-21 victory over the Blue Raiders. It was McMinn coach Bo Cagle's first road victory over Cleveland, and it came at a great time.
Dre Sanders had a quiet 118 yards on 23 carries and two scores as well as McMinn improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the district. The team rushed for 450 yards.
"Our offensive line was terrific tonight," Wells said. "The credit for all of our runs go to the line. We couldn't have done it without them."
The two backs combined for 232 first-half yards, but Cleveland (4-3, 2-1) capitalized on three first-half turnovers by the Cherokees to take a 14-6 lead into the locker room. Austin Herink and D.J. Jones hooked up on a short touchdown pass, and C.J. Bryant scored from 15 yards late in the first half.
Bryant had a huge first half, with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and 72 yards rushing.
Cleveland clung to the eight-point advantage, but Sanders scored on the final play of the third quarter. Wells then had 92 yards and two scores in the final 12 minutes. He had four runs of at least 30 yards and three of at least 59 during the game.
"It's awesome to have those explosive plays, but we can live on those," Cagle said. "I thought they outplayed us for three and a half quarters. They hit us in the mouth, but I thought we responded well.
"We stole one tonight."
McMinn starting quarterback Corbin Powers sat out the second half with what Cagle called a mild concussion, turning it over to backup Trevor Crisp, who created the Cherokees' go-ahead touchdown with a flip to Wells for a 13-yard gain on a third-and-7 play.
After Wells' final touchdown run, Herink and Jones connected again on a 31-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds remaining, but the Cherokees recovered the onside kick and took a knee twice to claim the win.
Bryant finished with 110 yards rushing for Cleveland. The Cherokees made Herink uncomfortable in the pocket all night and totaled three sacks, but the junior quarterback finished 18-for-30 for 188 yards.
"We knew we were going to have to tackle a couple of good backs in space. We had opportunities to make plays, but we weren't able to do it," Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. "They have some good players that made plays. We've improved over the season and we responded well, but we no longer control our own destiny in the district."