It more resembled table tennis than football at times as Fuquay-Varina and Cleveland went at it in a battle of the area’s top offense on Friday night.
But in the end, the Fuquay-Varina defense made the stops it had to make, as the Rams ran out of time in the middle of the field in a 36-29 Bengal victory.
The win improved the Bengals, members of the Southwest Wake 4A, to 4-0 all against nonconference opposition. Cleveland, a member of the Two Rivers 3A, fell to 2-2 against its tough nonconference slate.
It was the first football meeting between the schools.
Colten Smith rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns to lead the winners, while Josh Arrington added 115 yards and two scores.
“Our kids are tough and they showed it tonight,” Bengals coach Jeb Hall said. “We just refused to give in. We’ve played some really good teams – these (Cleveland) guys are well-coached and their offense is phenomenal.”
Caiden Norman completed 23 of 34 passes for 319 yards, also rushing for 42 yards and three touchdowns. Corey Brown rushed for 80 yards and a TD for Cleveland, while Patrick Jesequel caught 11 passes for 130 yards and Jacob Scott four for 99.
“We changed how we were playing our D-line a little bit at halftime,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “We hadn’t played a triple-option team in a long time. Their running backs run hard and they’re not going to go down easy.”
The Bengals led 28-22 at halftime, courtesy of 267 rushing yards and one pass. Fuquay-Varina scored the first three times it had the ball.
Arrington went in from seven yards out to end the visitors’ first possession, one play after his own 57-yard run. And the Bengals took it to 14-0 midway through the period on a 34-yard burst from Smith followed by Arrington’s run.
Cleveland got on the board on Norman’s six-yard run to end a 69-yard drive with 2:45 left in the period.
Smith added a 76-yard scoring run with 1:14 left in the quarter to make it 21-7.
But the Rams struck back in the second. After scoring a safety on an errant punt snap out of the end zone, Cleveland got another Norman score from a yard out.
Smith added another scoring run for the Bengals from 43 yards out with 2:10 left in the half, but the Rams finished the scoring on another one-yard Norman plunge.
Cleveland took the lead for the only time with 6:30 left in the third on a one-yard Brown run and Lawson Lamm’s kick.
But the Bengals responded with a 14-play, 71-yard drive ending on Arrington’s seven-yard run punctuated by D.J. McClain’s conversion scamper with 11:52 left.
Cleveland hosts Fayetteville Terry Sanford next week, the first of two more nonconference games before the Two Rivers 3A opener on Oct. 9 at Triton.
Fuquay-Varina will open SWAC play at home on Friday night against Athens Drive.