CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Over the course of the past two football seasons, Bradley Central's Justin Houston has proven himself as a valuable asset for the Bears in the running game, as a pass-catcher and as a return man.
Friday night against visiting Polk County, it was his turn as a running back.
Houston finished with 164 yards on nine carries and scored three touchdowns, and the Bears shook off a dismal first half to defeat the Wildcats 34-12 at Bear Stadium. The Bradley offensive line paved the way for 293 rushing yards -- 187 in the second half.
"We had to get mentally prepared and adjust at the half," the 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior said. "We came out in the second, the line did a great job blocking and so did the receivers. We found some holes and took advantage."
The Bears led 13-0 five minutes into the contest, as Houston scored from 39 yards out and again when Bradley was given the ball at the 1-yard line after a bad snap on a Polk punt attempt. Polk settled into the contest and primarily controlled the rest of the first half, with quarterback Alex Akins leading the charge for the Wildcats.
His interception of a Bryce Copeland pass gave the Wildcats field position inside the Bradley 20-yard line, and then his 16-yard run set up a 4-yard score by Chase Mull, cutting the lead to 13-6.
The Wildcats' defensive schemes confused Bradley during the first half.
"They were showing us a little different coverage," Bears coach Damon Floyd said. "They were only putting a few guys in the box, so we didn't have a choice but to run, and we had some guys blocking each other at times.
"We made some changes at the half, and that made a big difference."
The Bears got a 67-yard run by Houston on their first play of the second half, and then Copeland passed to James Stovall, who made a couple of shifty moves and scored from 19 yards to make it 27-6.
Derrick Saxe, who led Polk with 73 yards rushing, had a 4-yard score in the fourth quarter, but Copeland's 20-yard run with 8:54 remaining put the game away.
Floyd knows the Bears can't have the same first-half performance next week, as they face Division II-AA state runner-up Baylor at home Friday. The Red Raiders defeated Soddy-Daisy 48-0 on Friday.
The Bears and Trojans battle in two weeks.
"Any time you beat Polk, you feel it's a big win because they're such a good team," Floyd said. "We can't do anything at this point but look at the next one, and Baylor is tough, so we have to be better."