Cleveland goes 98 yards for winning score over East Hamilton

Cleveland goes 98 yards for winning score over East Hamilton

November 23rd, 2013 by Gene Henley in Sportspreps

Clevelan's T.J. Parker (28) is upended by East Hamilton's Alonzo Francois (1).

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

The star: T.J. Parker rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue Raiders' 21-14 win over East Hamilton.

Up next: Cleveland will travel to Knoxville West for the Class 5A state semifinals next week.

For the second time this season, the football matchup between Cleveland and East Hamilton came down to who could make one more play at the right time. During the regular season, it was East Hamilton's Hurricanes who made that play in a one-point victory. Friday night, it was the Blue Raiders.

Having just been pinned deep in its own territory with 4:46 left in a tie game, Cleveland zipped down the field with an eight-play, 98-yard drive, T.J. Parker scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1:27 remaining. The Blue Raiders advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals with a 21-14 victory at East Hamilton.

Cleveland (10-3) will travel to face Knoxville West (12-1), which defeated Anderson County 32-19, next Friday. It's the first time the Blue Raiders have advanced to the semifinals since 1995, when they were in the midst of three consecutive state championships and a 54-game win streak that would end the following year.

Parker finished with 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

"This is crazy, man," he said. "We knew what we had to do on that drive. It's second nature for us to run the ball down the field, and I was just fortunate to get the ball into the end zone. I really wanted to score for the seniors -- I didn't want this to be the last time they played."

On the game-winning drive, quarterback Austin Herink had a pair of long completions -- a 36-yarder to Brandon Williams and a 50-yarder to D.J. Jones. Three plays later, Parker punched the ball into the end zone.

The Hurricanes (10-3) took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Hunter Moore. Cleveland answered with Raekwon Bunion's first touchdown of the season, but East Hamilton jumped back on top in the third quarter when Moore hit Tony Francois on a short pass that turned into a 72-yard touchdown sprint.

The Blue Raiders answered again, tying the game on Parker's first score with 4:47 to go in the third quarter. They now get to travel back to West, who defeated them 35-25 on Sept. 27.

"We've already played them and get another chance to redeem ourselves," Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. "We knew there would be big plays out of both teams tonight. ... Both teams played extremely hard, and in the end, it's just unfortunate for Coach [Ted] Gatewood and fortunate for the Blue Raiders."

Moore finished with 238 yards passing in his final game, but the Hurricanes finished with only seven points in four trips to the red zone, missing on two field-goal tries.

"We were inept in the red zone. That's something we've had to overcome all year," Gatewood said. "When you're not hitting the big ones, that'll come back to haunt you. Cleveland is a good football team and Ron Crawford is a good football coach. They never gave up. ... We had leads but they kept battling back and hung around, played hard, and were clutch when they needed to be. They made plays when they had to."

The Hurricanes will be replacing a large senior class, which won 21 games the past two seasons yet watched as their second straight season ended a touchdown short in the state quarterfinals.

"I'm really proud of our senior class," Gatewood said. "They were phenomenal for us."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.