After a first half that was a punting exhibition interrupted by a two-minute scoring flurry for Cleveland, the Blue Raiders and host Soddy-Daisy put together a thrilling final two quarters Friday night.
The visitors survived the Trojans' last-second rally to win 21-14, taking both teams to 2-2.
Cleveland appeared to have a victory sealed after stopping Soddy-Daisy on fourth-and-goal with less than a minute to play, but a fumble with 38 seconds remaining made for a wild finish. Trojans quarterback Isaac Barnes just missed on two passes into the end zone with less than 10 seconds remaining.
"We did a lot of good things tonight, but when you've got a chance to close the game out, you've got to close the game out the right way," first-year Cleveland coach Marty Wheeler said after the game.
Both teams struggled to move the ball in the first quarter, with each punting twice and Soddy-Daisy doing so a third time to open the second quarter.
Cleveland's offense then broke through on fourth-and-2 as Robert Flowers ran 72 yards to score the game's first points. On Soddy-Daisy's next snap, Leo Palelei picked off Barnes and returned the ball to the Trojans' 7, setting up a short field for Cleveland. Two plays later, Tito Boyd plowed into the end zone for the second touchdown in less than a minute.
The teams combined for three more punts, and Cleveland's Lawson Dale missed a field-goal attempt just before halftime.
Cleveland opened the third quarter with a punishing drive led by Boyd, who carried on six of the nine plays, including the 1-yard dive to make it 21-0.
"We talked a little bit about getting me the ball more, but we wanted to get tighter on some of our runs," said Boyd, who totaled 103 yards on 21 carries. "We realized we had to finish in the second half. And it was a little rough at the end, but we did manage to finish."
Soddy-Daisy didn't quit. Barnes put together an impressive drive, capped by a 6-yard pass to KeSean Eubanks to make it 21-7 entering the fourth. What would have been a 45-yard touchdown pass to Will Ackerman on the first play of the final quarter was called back on an illegal-shift penalty.
The Trojans cut it to 21-14 with 8:54 remaining on Hayden Maynor's run, and they got the ball back with 6:17 remaining after Flowers fumbled. The Trojans drove to the 6, but the Blue Raiders sacked Barnes on fourth-and-goal with 51 seconds remaining.
Cleveland's fumble at its own 35 with 38 seconds left gave the Trojans one last shot. Barnes completed passes to Landon Reece and Eubanks to get the ball to the Cleveland 14 with eight seconds remaining. He had two passes broken up, the last as time expired.
Barnes finished with 191 passing yards, and Maynor had 69 yards on 14 carries, giving coach Justin Barnes something he hopes to build on.
"We've got to come out the whole game like we did the second half," Coach Barnes said. "We played really good defense in the first half except for about a three-minute span where we gave up 14 points. We had opportunities to score early and we just didn't take it, and then we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties on two long touchdown passes.
The Blue Raiders got a big win for their new coach.
"I'm happy with the way our team fought," Wheeler said. "Down here in the past, we may not have been able to get this done. I told the guys that I don't care how we win the football game as long as we win the football game, but we've got a lot of things we have to fix."