CLAYTON — Of all the things that could be dissected from Cleveland’s thrilling 45-44 win against Garner on Friday night, coach Marc Morris wanted to talk about rushes on extra point attempts.
Not just the two tries that swung the result in the Rams’ favor as they rallied from a 21-point deficit in the second half to win their first meeting with the Trojans. He wanted to talk about every extra point attempted on the night.
“Rushing on an extra point is all pure effort,” Morris said. “You don’t see a lot of kicks with the rush being a factor. But every kick in that game was under pressure because of the great effort both sides gave in every phase of the game.”
Garner took a 44-38 lead with 3 minutes, 45 seconds left on Nyheim Hines’ 5-yard touchdown run.
That’s when Cleveland junior defensive lineman Sterling Johnson gave one of those great efforts, getting a hand on the extra point attempt by Austin Marbrey to keep the lead at six points.
Cleveland scored on its next drive, tying the game at 44, setting up the biggest extra point attempt of the night from senior kicker Paul Johnson. The snap wasn’t ideal.
Rams quarterback and holder Aaron Farmer caught the ball on a bounce, spun it in the right direction all while losing his balance. By the time he had the ball in position for Johnson, Farmer was lying on his side holding it. Johnson took one step and drilled the kick through the uprights despite five Garner rushers who had broken through Cleveland’s line.
“It was an incredible play by Aaron, then another one by Paul Johnson on the same play,” Morris said. “Paul got one step in before he kicked that ball because he had to wait on Aaron to get it down. And somehow it got between all of those Garner dudes coming off of the edge.”
Cleveland’s comeback was keyed by its work against Garner’s rushing attack and on its own rushing game. Garner ran for 212 yards on 16 carries in the first half (a 13.25-yards per play average). The Rams’ held the Trojans to 78 yards on the ground in the second half (5.57 yards per play).
The Rams’ defensive line, led by veterans Dylan Caldwell and Johnson, played a huge role in the second half.
“We’re seeing more guys come into their roles, guys like Malik Vick in the secondary and Andrew Caldwell at linebacker,” Morris said.
“We knew we had to figure out how to get stops in the second half somewhere if we wanted to get back in the game. And our entire defense did that together.”
Offensively, Cleveland rolled up 411 yards rushing behind the line of seniors Xavier Baker, Bryce Hale, Paul Johnson, Adam Kurtz and sophomore Zach Jacobs. That total is nearly a quarter of what the Trojans allowed last season (1,741 yards) in 15 games.
The win leaves 3A Cleveland 1-1 after two meetings with 4A schools, but there are two more on the horizon and five on the nonconference schedule. The next is against arch rival West Johnston.
West is 2-0 in its first season under coach Jimmy Williams and has allowed seven points in two games.
“The whole philosophy of our program is that the most important game you’ll ever play is the next one,” Morris said. “Garner’s over; we’re on to West Johnston. And we know what we’ll see with a Jimmy Williams-coached team: they’ll play good defense and run the ball very well.”
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