Cleveland’s defense set the tone early with three tackles for losses on the first three plays from scrimmage against rival South Johnston Friday night.
South was able to hit a trio of long runs that led to scores, but struggled to move the ball against the Rams most of the night in a 31-21 Cleveland win that creates a three-way tie for first place in the Two Rivers 3A Conference.
Cleveland (8-2 overall, 3-1 conference), South Johnston (4-6, 3-1) and Corinth Holders (7-3, 3-1) can all claim parts of the title with wins next week. None of the three play each other.
The Rams scored the game’s final 14 points to turn back South Johnston, which had won three straight. South went up 21-17 with 1:48 to play in the third quarter on Eric Bowles’ 1-yard TD run. It was Bowles’ third of the night His first two – both in the first quarter – covered 80 and 90 yards.
“They ran two zone reads, something we haven’t seen them do a lot and it took us by surprise,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “But aside from that we played very consistent football. They’re a fast team and it took a great night from our defense to help get us this win.”
Bowles finished with 203 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Quarterback Deparis Patterson’s 64-yard scramble that helped set up South’s final TD in the third quarter.
“Cleveland is a team that can really dominate a game with their defensive line,” said South Johnston coach Hunter Jenks. “They’re all really talented, well-coached and they just dominated the game tonight.”
Senior defensive lineman Sterling Johnson, a Clemson recruit, had seven tackles for losses, two-and-a-half sacks and blocked a long South field goal attempt in the second half.
“Overall, I couldn’t be any more proud of the way we played,” Johnson said. “They’re a potent offense. They’ve lost some games, but they’ve put up 30-plus points against almost everybody they’ve played. To hold them to 21 points and seven in the second half says a lot about the way we played on defense.”
Senior quarterback Aaron Farmer was the main weapon for the Rams offensively. He ran for 156 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns.
Down 21-17, Farmer completed a big third down throw to Jacob Scott to keep a drive alive, then scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland’s defense forced three consecutive South Johnston three-and-out possessions in the fourth quarter. The last stop preceded a 23-yard punt return by Patrick Jesequel, which set up the Rams’ final TD – a 10-yard run by Corey Brown with 1:59 to play.