CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley Central senior kicker Isaac Vaughan was at a loss for words after he tucked his 31-yard game-winning field goal just inside the left upright with six seconds left in regulation.
After being smacked in the mouth the first half by Cleveland, the Bears rallied for a thrilling 37-35 win to extend their streak of wins to five in the fierce crosstown rivalry.
Vaughan's name rang through the postgame celebration in an instant classic that was featured in the Great American Rivalry Series that highlights some of the best high school football games across the country.
"My heart is pounding still and was when I kicked it," said Vaughan, catching his breath. "I just trusted myself and went for it. This was a very emotional game. To kick that field goal is an amazing feeling, and I am filled with emotion."
Looking to end the streak, the Blue Raiders (3-3, 1-2 Region 2-6A) could not have opened to a better start.
Cleveland sophomore linebacker Leo Palelei was a menace for a locked-in defense, while junior Kley McGowan flashed for a 66-yard reverse touchdown run and threw for a 61-yard score on a trick pass to elite receiver Robert Flowers, who held off a defender down the right sideline to lead 21-0 with four minutes left before halftime.
"I would be lying if I thought we would climb right back in it," said Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd, whose team trailed 28-7 at halftime. "We just got our butts kicked in the first half. But our kids responded and stuck together. It became a game of heart, and the game plan went out the window. They stuck together, and that's what I am most proud about."
Junior quarterback Javin Burke came out with a fire in his eyes in the second half as he led five scoring drives in as many attempts, which included a pair each of passing and rushing scores.
The Bears (5-1, 3-0) also had a pivotal punt block to help up an easy score.
After Burke delivered a strike to sure-handed senior Saylor Clark for a 17-yard tying score, Cleveland responded in a big way as the tough running of TeToe Boyd was displayed again.
Boyd totaled 165 rushing yards on 29 carries and made a 41-yard run up the middle and broke two tackles to get down to the 1, from where he scored with 3:59 left.
The Bears answered back with a Burke rushing score to the right pylon, but he slipped on a 2-point-conversion try for the lead with 1:55 left.
However, Bradley's defense forced a stop and the Bears drove from their own 48-yard line to Cleveland's 13 with no timeouts left to set up the winning field goal.
"Credit to Cleveland and their guys for giving us trouble and really making us do all we could to win this game," said Burke, who threw for 212 yards and three scores to go with 125 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. "I love this rivalry. It goes so far back, and hopefully we can build off this. I am going to give Isaac a big kiss on his forehead. He's going to remember that for a while."