After more than 100 points and 1,200 yards of combined offense on Friday night, of all things, a defensive play sealed Cleveland’s 56-53 victory over Clayton.
Junior defensive back Clayton Brown picked off a pass intended for the Comets’ Blake Joyner that had been tipped by the mass of bodies around Joyner with 26 seconds to play, ending an amazing back-and-forth offensive showcase.
Cleveland, making its debut under first-year head coach Scott Riley, was out-gained by the Comets but didn’t commit a turnover all night and had an answer for Clayton’s comeback in the fourth quarter.
Clayton after trailing 49-32 late in the third quarter, went ahead 53-49 when Joyner took a lateral from quarterback Eric Hoy and raced away on a 60-yard TD run with 2:43 to play for the Comets’ first lead since late in the second quarter.
The Rams, after being held without a first down on its previous two possessions, whizzed down the field under the direction of senior quarterback Aaron Farmer. Farmer converted a third-and-8 with Caiden Norman with 1:35 to play, then found a wide-open Patrick Jesequel for a 45-yard completion to the 5. Farmer rolled around the right side of the Ram offensive line on the next play for a 56-53 lead.
Farmer ran for 144 yards and threw for 226, completing 13-of-18 passes. Teammate Corey Brown ran for 170 on 19 carries and three touchdowns.
Clayton’s Eric Hoy ran up huge numbers in his first career start at quarterback. Hoy ran for 311 yards on 21 carries and threw for another 215. Hoy threw for three TDs and ran for another three. Joyner had 147 yards receiving and 113 rushing.
The final four minutes of the first half were a flurry of points. Three touchdowns were scored in a 36-second span.
Cleveland went up 21-20 on a 39-yard touchdown run by Aaron Farmer with three minutes, 38 seconds to play in the second quarter. Clayton needed just one play to answer with Kevonte Holder taking a spot pass from Eric Hoy and racing 45 yards for a TD.
Cleveland came back with a two-play drive, capped by Corey Brown’s 52-yard TD run. And just like that a game that was tied at 14 with five minutes to play in the first half was a 28-26 contest.
The Rams’ Lance Kirby corralled a loose sky kick on the ensuing kick off to get his team the ball right back.
Corey Brown went in from 15 yards out five plays later for a 35-26 lead with 1:07 to play. Clayton almost got back within a touchdown down, but the Comets lost the ball at the end of a 52-yard run.
Cleveland senior defensive lineman Sterling Johnson, a Clemson recruit, blocked two Comet extra points in the first half.