Cleveland strikes early at Rhea County for another road win

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Clevelands Brian Beard Jr. runs the ball during Friday night's game at Rhea County. Beard rushed for 123 yards on 12 carries to help the Blue Raiders win 48-14.

EVENSVILLE, Tenn. — Game in and game out, there's plenty that Cleveland junior Lucas Szymborski does to dent a football stat sheet.

That was no different in the Blue Raiders' 48-14 win at Rhea County on Friday night.

Yet a couple weeks ago, Chandler Tygard and his staff pointed out something that Szymborski wasn't doing so well — blocking — and now he has checked that off his list, too, with the Cleveland coach mentioning that Szymborski has become "the best perimeter blocker we have out there."

There wasn't a place he didn't affect the stat sheet in the 34-point victory, which bumped the Blue Raiders, ranked 10th in TSSAA Class 6A, to 4-1 at the regular season's midpoint. Szymborski finished with 122 yards on five receptions with two touchdowns, returned a fumble for another score and intercepted a pass.

(READ MORE: Final scores and photos from Friday night's Chattanooga-area prep football games)

"Coach (Tygard) had talked about how this was going to be a tough one because we know Rhea County doesn't like us and we hadn't played in a few years," said Szymborski, who caught the winning touchdown pass when Cleveland beat eventual state semifinalist Maryville a year ago to end the Rebels' long run of region victories. "We knew we were going to have to go out there, not let any stupid stuff affect us, and we just did our thing.

"We had the big win last week, our energy was high, and we were able to follow that up with a good team win."

Coming off last week's 22-point victory against then-No. 6 Farragut, Cleveland's first-ever road win against the Admirals, a letdown could have been possible. Facing the Golden Eagles (3-2), a nonregion rival from Class 5A, likely helped Cleveland stay focused, and the Blue Raiders scored on their first play from scrimmage, with L.J. Adams hitting Szymborski on a screen pass and allowing the multisport athlete — he won an individual state title in wrestling — a chance to break a tackle and sprint 42 yards for a score.

Two possessions later, it was Adams finding sophomore Brayden Carroll for a similar play and a 40-yard catch-and-run.

"With high school kids, you always want to score first because you're more likely to win," Tygard said. "We really wanted to push the tempo, especially against them because it's hard for them to simulate our tempo in practice, just like it's hard for us to simulate their offense. We were able to get on them quickly so we could dictate the tempo."

Cleveland held Rhea, which averages 298.3 rushing yards per game but was missing star back Ethan Davis, to 122 yards on 41 carries while scoring two defensive touchdowns to Rhea's one. Taking the early advantage took the Golden Eagles out of their game plan, and the hosts threw 14 passes Friday after having only 11 attempts combined in their first four games. Caleb Carr completed three of those attempts for 56 yards and a touchdown to Ethan Mosley that made it 14-7 early.

Cleveland responded with 27 straight points before Aiden Wilkerson returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score.

Adams threw for 207 yards and four scores, while Mycah Jordan had two touchdowns, one off an Adams pass and another when he picked off a Carr pass and ran 13 yards for a score. Brian Beard Jr. rushed for 123 yards on 12 carries.

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