CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley Central football coach Damon Floyd sat in his office late Friday night and thought back in a moment of reflection.
Moments earlier, he'd been in a black-and-gold sea of players and supporters, trying to remain the voice of reason in the aftermath of the second-ranked Bears' 21-13 home win over third-ranked Maryville in the Region 2-6A opener for both teams.
He preached to his team about how "this is just game three," and while the players undoubtedly understood the message, there's also no doubt that this felt different.
"I don't know how to describe tonight," Floyd said. "I mean, 18 years of a lot of ups and downs and questioning whether I should even be doing this. We had hard losses, but tough, hard-fought wins, and you can't describe it. I'd like to say I'm just fortunate to be a part of it."
Floyd took the Bradley job in 2006 at a time perhaps no one else would have done so, with the program totaling one win combined the two seasons prior. He has built it up and made it a desirable place to go for players, including the electric Boo Carter and the underrated Kaleb Martin, the Miami (Ohio)-committed quarterback who threw for 229 yards and two scores and ran for 120 and another touchdown as the Bears (3-0) handed the Rebels (2-1) a rare region loss.
Bradley Central vs. Maryville on Sept. 1, 2023
"This one means a lot," said defensive back and Marcus Goree, who was part of the effort — along with fellow defensive back Tito Williams, linebacker Wiley Suskawicz and defensive lineman Zane McIntosh — that held the Rebels to 300 total yards. "All the players that came through before dreamed of this moment, and we're the first team to become part of it, the first team to beat Maryville."
Maryville had been a black cloud over Chattanooga-area teams, holding a 144-game winning streak until Cleveland snapped that with a 28-24 victory a year ago. But that was an upset, while Bradley delivered on its higher ranking against the Rebels.
The Bears were better throughout, with the close final score more reflective of their two turnovers in Maryville territory that cost them points than anything else. Bradley piled up 475 yards on 49 plays, with the primary pieces doing their parts: Carter had 169 total yards, an electric 61-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and the game-clinching 16-yard run on a third-down play in the final quarter, while Jackson Wilson came alive with 167 total yards (102 rushing) and a 52-yard touchdown catch.
"Tonight is about the program and the brotherhood that's here," Wilson said. "We had to handle some adversity, and we came back and did it, but now we're just refocusing and going on to the next week."
The Bears led 21-3 at halftime, but that lead was cut to eight on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Graham Coulter to Britton Barrett with 3:45 to play. Bradley was forced to punt, but Martin intercepted a Coulter pass on the Rebels' first play from scrimmage and the Bears were able to salt the game away on runs by Wilson and Carter.
"Tonight is about the leadership that we have," Floyd said. "When they scored that last touchdown, Kaleb looked at me and said, 'Coach, we've got this.' When you have those type of kids, it is there, and that's something as a coach I've had to get better at is letting the players deal with it. Obviously, we're there to coach, but let's be honest, coaching didn't win that game; our players did.
"We're just fortunate to be the coaching staff that's coaching this group, so we can't take a whole lot of credit. There's some talent out there, but the thing I'm proud of is that they stuck together when things didn't go well and they were great teammates."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org.