Despite all the points scored, including 55 in the game’s final 21 minutes, Erwin Triton’s 43-40 win over Cleveland on Friday featured plenty of great defense by both teams.
“There were great offensive players all over the field on both sides,” said Cleveland coach Marc Morris after the game. “But we said all week that this was going to come down to defense. Both teams played good defense at times. Triton just came up with turnovers and we didn’t.”
In the battle of unbeaten Eastern Carolina 3A teams, Triton seemed to take control of the game in the third quarter, turning three Rams’ turnovers into 19 quick points for a 33-14 lead. When Triton (8-0 overall, 4-0 conference) held Cleveland (8-1, 4-1) on downs midway through the fourth quarter and drove for a field goal from Ricardo Rodriguez, the Hawks led by 22 points.
“We thought our defense had really stepped up and grabbed the momentum,” said Triton coach Ashley Ennis. “But Cleveland showed how good of a team they are and came right back at us. They kept us off the field on offense when they had to and their young quarterback grew up a lot in that fourth quarter.”
Down 36-14 and seemingly out of it, the Rams charged back with four TD passes by sophomore Aaron Farmer – all of 37 or more yards – in the game’s final seven minutes to nearly close that gap.
Cleveland, which averages 45 points a game, had 518 yards of total offense in the loss, but half of the Rams’ plays (27 of 55) netted a gain of three yards or less.
The Hawks’ defensive line, featuring Tim McNeill (five) and Reggie McNeill (three), had multiple tackles for losses. Triton held Cleveland’s Isaac Martin to a season low 111 yards and just three gains of 10 or more yards.
Cleveland, meanwhile, was even more impressive on defense at times. The Rams defense held Triton to three yards or less on 31 plays. Only 15 times (33 percent) did Triton pick up four or more yards in the game.
Cleveland’s Jared Thomas finished with three tackles for losses, including a sack. Blaine Bryant contributed three tackles for losses.