CLEVELAND, Tenn. — With a new coaching staff to start the season and a couple of close region losses, Cleveland football coach Marty Wheeler admitted that his Blue Raiders had struggled as they learned how to win.
Down 14-0 at halftime to Ooltewah on Friday night, they easily could have chalked up their regular-season finale as another one of those losses.
But host Cleveland fought back to win the Region 2-6A matchup 17-14 on the shoulders of workhorse Tito Boyd — who carried the ball an amazing 36 times for 198 yards — and the right foot of kicker Lawson Dale, who made the winning 37-yard field goal as time expired.
"I'm so proud of the resiliency these guys showed to come back in the second half," Wheeler said. "When you go in at halftime and talk about the things you have to do to turn the game around, and then see them go out and do exactly what we talked about, it's a great feeling. I think it says a lot about these guys laying the foundation for where we're headed in the future."
That foundation starts with Boyd, just a sophomore, who accounted for two-thirds of Cleveland's total touches and yards on offense. As Ooltewah (3-7, 2-4) double-teamed star wide receiver Robert Flowers on the outside, the Blue Raiders (4-6, 2-4) turned to Boyd, who seemed to get stronger as the game wore on.
"We've lost a lot of backs, so I had to suck it up and carry the rock more," Boyd said. "This win means so much because we transferred everything we did at practice to the game, just like Coach has been telling us."
While Flowers was held to two catches for 10 yards, he made a big play at the beginning of the third quarter that turned momentum Cleveland's way. The senior took a speed sweep around the right end and tiptoed down the sideline for a 67-yard touchdown that cut the Owls' lead to seven.
Boyd tied it on Cleveland's next possession, as he plowed in from 3 yards out just before the end of the period.
A fourth-and-12 stop by Cleveland's defense on the Blue Raiders' 33-yard line midway through the final quarter set up the winning drive. After a timeout with just two seconds left, Dale stepped up to try to win it for his team.
"I had a lot on my mind, thinking everyone would hate me if I missed it," said Dale, who saw his first attempt bounce off the crossbar and through only to be waved off because the refs had not blown the play live. "The first one actually cleared my head a little bit. I made the second one, and now everyone loves me."
While both teams came into the game with a chance to earn the region's fourth and final playoff spot, the Cleveland victory caused a three-way tie with William Blount (4-6, 2-4). The Governors won the tiebreaker to earn their first playoff berth since 2007.
Senior Jaquan Greenhill led the Owls — who had touchdown drives of 97 and 98 yards during the first half — with 119 yards and a 24-yard receiving touchdown.
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com.