CLAYTON — The heart and soul of the Cleveland football team this season has been found in the two-pronged attack of junior quarterback Aaron Farmer and senior running back Isaac Martin. And with the duo accounting for more than 4,300 yards and 50 touchdowns between them, it’s easy to see why the accolades follow their performances.
But the success of the Rams this season, said head coach Marc Morris, hinges in an area of the field where the numbers on the back of the jerseys are sometimes difficult to distinguish – in the defensive line.
After suffering losses early in the season in which Cleveland surrendered point totals of 63, 53 and 49 points to opponents, the Rams’ defense has shown vast improvement down the stretch, and that all starts up front with the defensive line.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys,” Morris said of his starting defensive line unit of Dylan Caldwell, Sterling Johnson, Chris Lee and Bryer Rogers. “We feel like that is the backbone of our whole team to be honest with you.”
The Ram defenders were tested in Cleveland’s 33-13 first-round win over a physical Hope Mills Gray’s Creek, which attempted to win the battle in the trenches with a relentless running attack.
Gray’s Creek twice threatened to cut into Cleveland’s double-digit lead by moving inside the Rams’ 10 yard line. The Bears missed a field goal and were stopped on downs.
The Rams’ front had key roles in the victory. Caldwell recovered a fumble in the opening round win, Johnson earned a key sack and Lee and Rogers helped to win the battle up front with big stops all night long.
The Rams have surrendered 41 points in their last three games, compared to the 169 points it allowed in the first four.
“The better they play, the better our defense plays and they know that,” Morris added. “When they play well, we end up playing pretty good.
“It’s something that we’re going to need to continue to do.”
Cleveland (9-3) plays at home Friday night against an Orange (11-1) team that averages 41.2 points per game and has scored 40 or more in eight of 12 games.