Cleveland in state semifinals first time since 1995

Cleveland in state semifinals first time since 1995

November 24th, 2013 by Stephen Hargis in Sportspreps

The East Hamilton Hurricanes (right) line up against the Cleveland Blue Raiders (left) at East Hamilton High School on Friday.

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

Friday, Nov. 29

TSSAA semifinals

South Pittsburg (11-1) at Coalfield (9-3)

Cleveland (10-3) at Knoxville Weset (12-1)

Georgia quarterfinals

Central of Carrollton (10-2) at Ringgold (10-2)

Calhoun (11-1) at Benedictine (12-0)

Welcome back to the big stage, Cleveland.

In his second season of rebuilding a Blue Raiders program with a proud tradition, Ron Crawford has guided the team within one win of playing for a Class 5A state championship. Cleveland reached the semifinals for the first time since the last of its three consecutive state titles in 1995 by driving 98 yards for the winning touchdown late in Friday's seven-point win at East Hamilton.

Cleveland held the Hurricanes to 67 rushing yards on 29 tough carries, and that thrilling win avenged one regular-season loss and earned the Blue Raiders the chance to pay back another team that beat them. Fifth-ranked Cleveland will travel this Friday to second-ranked Knoxville West, which claimed a 35-25 late September win, with a spot in the title game on the line.

"You always like being the team that has extra incentive," said Crawford, who won a 5A state title at Brentwood High in 2002. "It just so happens we get a second chance at another team that beat us in the regular season, so I believe the kids will be ready. West is really good and we had a terrible first quarter the last time we played them, and that cost us.

"But we're playing with a lot of confidence now. When we saw the brackets we were disappointed with being a five-seed, but we also realized we had a chance to play with every team in our bracket."

Southeast Tennessee's only other team in the TSSAA semifinals is a South Pittsburg team accustomed to playing in late November. This is the fifth time in the last seven years the Pirates have reached the Class 1A semifinals. Every previous year they advanced to play for a state title.

Top-ranked South Pittsburg whipped Fayetteville 49-0 despite getting just four carries from Mr. Football finalist Jajuan Lankford, who played sparingly with a minor injury. However, the Pirates will need all hands on deck this week as they visit sixth-ranked Coalfield, which has three two-way linemen in the 290-300-pound range, including junior Zach Stewart (6-foot-5, 310), a University of Tennessee commitment.

In Georgia, Ringgold earned a rematch against Central of Carrollton by pounding out 344 yards Friday in a 37-12 rout of Cedar Grove. The Tigers, who have reached the GHSA Class AAA quarterfinals for the first time, will be looking to avenge a four-point loss in the regular season.

"We're very happy to be playing at home," said Ringgold coach Robert Akins, whose team won a coin toss to earn the right to host. "There was more pressure on that flip than before a ballgame. We're really looking forward to getting another game at home."

Calhoun, which rallied to edge Greater Atlanta Christian 31-30 despite rushing for just 19 yards and being outgained 587-212 in total yards, lost its coin toss Saturday and will have to travel to unbeaten Benedictine in a AA quarterfinal. Both teams are No. 1 seeds and that game will be played at Savannah State University.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.