published Saturday, November 16th, 2013

Cleveland Blue Raiders race past Rhea County

Cleveland's T.J. Parker (28) breaks through a crowd of defenders.
Cleveland's T.J. Parker (28) breaks through a crowd of defenders.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Star: Cleveland's T.J. Parker rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns and intercepted a pass in the Blue Raiders' 31-7 win over Rhea County.

Up next: Cleveland (9-3) will travel to East Hamilton (10-2).

EVENSVILLE, Tenn. — Even with their gaudy passing numbers, the Cleveland Blue Raiders have had no problems with their ground game throughout the 2013 football season. They leaned on it heavily and reaped the rewards Friday night.

Led by T.J. Parker and Raekwon Bunion, the Raiders rushed for 296 yards against Rhea County. Meanwhile, the Cleveland defense forced three turnovers and limited the Eagles to 78 rushing yards in cruising to a 31-7 victory to advance to the Class 5A state quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.

The Raiders (9-3) will play at East Hamilton (10-2), which defeated Ooltewah 26-19.

"It feels good to do something we haven't done in a long time," Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink said. "We have such a great senior class, and it's great that I get to keep practicing and playing with them."

Cleveland actually game-planned to pound the ball against the Eagles, noticing on video that they consistently dropped eight into coverage against opponents with explosive passing attacks. Both Parker and Bunion had their halves of success, as the former had 101 yards and two scores in the first half -- going over 1,000 yards for the season in the process -- while Bunion had 81 of his 138 yards in the final 24 minutes.

They ran the ball on 29 of 37 first-half plays, for 191 yards.

"We knew we were going to have to run the ball against them, so we challenged our offensive line and challenged our running backs this week," Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. "I have to give our offensive line a lot of credit, but our running backs really ran hard tonight. Every time they had a crease, they were taking advantage."

The Raiders led 17-0 at halftime on Parker's two scores and a 26-yard field goal by Oscar Galvan. An interception in the end zone in the third quarter by Bryce Keylon kept the Eagles in the game, and they grinded out a 20-play, 80-yard drive -- they were 1-for-4 on third downs but 3-for-3 on fourth downs on the drive -- with quarterback Austin Dotson finding Dimitrius Patterson for a 10-yard touchdown pass on a screen.

Cleveland answered with a pair of Herink touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to put the game away, one to D.J. Jones and another to Tyler Davis.

Rhea was limited to 142 yards of total offense. Jacob York had 49 yards rushing and Dotson had 64 passing and threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a quarterback-center exchange.

"They were just better than us tonight," said Rhea coach Mark Pemberton, who engineered one of the best single-season win turnarounds in the state. "We struggled offensively when we had opportunities, but I'm proud of how we turned it around. There's a lot of tradition here, and I think tonight ws a building block. We hope to take it a step further next season."

Herink finished with 102 yards passing on 9-of-13 passing. Davis's 41st catch of the season -- his only one of the game -- put him over 1,000 yards for the season.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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