Cleveland put together its best all-around game of the season to roll past Gray’s Creek 36-18 on Friday night in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA football playoffs.
The Rams (10-3) jumped to a 24-0 halftime advantage and answered every Gray’s Creek challenge in the second half.
“I think so,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said when asked if the win over the Bears was his team’s best overall effort of the season. “That’s what we are going to need each week from here on out.
“You have got to be playing your best football right now or you go home.”
Cleveland, seeded second in the East in the 3AA bracket, advanced to a third-round meeting at home against third-seeded Southern Durham, which eliminated Cleveland in the third round last season.
The Rams were led by junior quarterback Caiden Norman, who passed for 318 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another.
Norman finished with 47 yards rushing to go over 1,000 for the season and topped 3,000 yards passing for the year.
“He’s done a great job for us,” Riley said. “He’s the engine that makes the offense go when you are in the spread. They did a good job against the run tonight so we had to throw it to loosen them up.”
Norman completed 22 of 31 passes.
Gray’s Creek (9-4 and seeded 7th in the East) scored the first time it had the ball in the second half to cut the margin to 24-6.
Cleveland answered immediately, driving 71 yards and scoring on a 5-yard pass from Norman to Kenny White to take a 30-6 lead.
The Bears responded with a 39-yard TD run from Diondre Hicks to cut the margin to 30-12 with 2:52 remaining in the third period.
Again, Cleveland answered. Lawson Lamm kicked a pair of field goals on the Rams’ next two possessions – giving him three field goals for the night.
Defensively, the Rams were up to the task against a Bears team that had rushed for 566 yards last week in a first-round victory over Jacksonville. Gray’s Creek could manage only two first downs and 13 yards on the ground in the first half and finished with 150 yards rushing for the game.
“We challenged our defense and they really did a great job of absorbing or game plan and came out here and played real hard,” Riley said of his defense. “They did everything we wanted.”
Cleveland dominated the first half, scoring on four of its first five possessions to go up 24-0.
Norman had 147 yards passing in the first half, completing 13 of 16 passes. The Rams rushed for 81 yards to total 228 yards of offense in the first half.
The Rams drove 75 yards on its first possession, getting a touchdown on a 2-yard shovel pass from Norman to Patrick Jesequel.
The Rams took a 10-0 lead 11 seconds into the second quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Lawson Lamm.
Cleveland scored twice in the final four minutes of half.
Norman scored on a 6-yard keeper with 3:53 remaining to make it 17-0 and then connected on a 19-yard pass to Jesequel to put the Rams up 24-0 with 1:22 left in the half.