The Cleveland defense is pulling some tough assignments this postseason.
After the Rams absorbed Hope Mills Gray’s Creek and their 451 yards of rushing in a first round 3AA playoff victory, Cleveland will go on the road to face a much more dynamic attack in the defending state 3AA champions, Southern Durham.
Unlike the sweeps and traps Gray’s Creek almost exclusively relied upon, the Southern Durham offense will require a different focus from the Cleveland defense that will have to honor both the pass and the run.
“It’s a totally different style; a totally different scheme,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said when asked about the differences between the two offenses.
The Spartans, ranked No. 1 in the state by the Associated Press and winners of 25 consecutive games, are led by senior quarterback Kendall Hinton.
Hinton, a Wake Forest University recruit, has thrown for 2,539 yards this year with 20 touchdown passes versus just one interception. The heady, dual-threat quarterback has also run for 760 yards this season (9.7 yards/carry).
In his brief career, Hinton has accounted for over 8,400 yards of total offense and 65 touchdowns.
The numbers seem to go up in big games. In wins this season over Durham Hillside, Northwood, Orange County and Scotland County, Hinton posted at least 330 yards of total offense.
“Kendall Hinton is an unbelievable athlete and quarterback,” Riley said. “I’ve seen him in person a couple times. He can get it done so we have a tall task in front of us that we’ll try to tackle.”
Wrapping up will be of the utmost importance Friday night in Durham for the Rams who struggled at times in their opening round win in limiting yards after the initial contact.
Containing Hinton and eliminating the big play will also be essential to knocking off the defending champions. The Bears’ backfield produced nine plays of 20 yards or more.
The one area the Cleveland defense excelled in against Gray’s Creek figures to possibly be the most important factor Friday night: getting stops on third down.
The Rams allowed Gray’s Creek to convert just one-of-seven chances Friday night on third down and getting the Spartans offense off of the field in a similar fashion this Friday night might be the final piece of a winning formula.
Sterling Johnson turned in a huge game against the Bears and a repeat performance will be welcomed against the 12-0 Spartans.
In a second round loss to Orange County (59-50) last year, the Rams proved they could score with a high powered offense from the Big Eight Conference.
Good things tend to happen when Cleveland has the ball. Cleveland’s Aaron Farmer (2,855 yards passing and 1,044 yards rushing) directs an offense that seems capable of scoring from anywhere on the field at anytime. A couple extra possessions would certainly not hurt Cleveland’s chances.
“There’s no one who can simulate Kendall Hinton but if there’s anyone in this area that can, it’s Aaron,” joked Riley. “He’ll be our scout quarterback.”