Cleveland senior defensive end Wilson Benefield comes up with a sack on the goal line during the first quarter against Walker Valley in a non-region contest Friday night. The Blue Raiders posted their first shutout since 2016 when they blanked White County and Signal Mountain. (Banner Photo: Patrick MacCoon)
Despite feeling somewhat broken the past two weeks after disappointing losses, Cleveland played with fierce pride, especially on the defensive end in a 43-0 road shutout over up-county foe Walker Valley Friday night.
Senior defensive end Wilson Benefield, dressed in his typical war paint eye black, came up big as did many others for a lockdown unit that left no room to breathe for the Mustangs.
By the end of the night, Benefield had forced two fumbles, sacked the quarterback twice and recovered a fumble as well.
The Blue Raiders scored more points than yards allowed (34) on a team that had scored 115 points on them over the past two seasons in large part due to Kolten Gibson.
“Everything comes down to accountability, courage and trust,” said Benefield, who is one of four senior captains. “We kind of lost sight of ourselves recently. We turned on each other when times got tough. A lot of us gave up. Tonight we got back to playing fast and physical and believing in one another.”
A sign of the way things would go for the WV offense came early as the opening drive consisted of a muffed punt, three penalties and a sack by Benefield to force Walker Valley to punt from the back of its own end zone.
Senior Jordan Hickey returned a punt 28 yards to set up an 11-yard scoring drive, which senior DE/FB Victor Dodd ended with carry into the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the season.
The Blue Raiders (2-3) never let their opponent inside the red zone or even have a chance to think about a field goal. Interceptions by David Dorsey and Nye Armstrong also led to premium field position, which lasted the majority of the night.
Dorsey leads the state with five interceptions on the season. The single season record is 12.
“Walker Valley has gone through some adversity themselves this year,” CHS head coach Scott Cummings said. “Their kids still fought and were good sportsmen. I don’t care the situation though, when your defense holds someone to 34 yards that is pretty awesome.”
While the Blue Raider passing attack was in a funk, the run game found itself after missing on consistency so far this season.
Getting to the second level on the blocks and hitting the holes, the three-headed backfield of Josiah “Bug” Bowman, Jeffrey Perez and Javaris Bowman combined for 230 yards on 20 carries for three scores.
Physical running paid off for “Bug,” who found the end zone for the first two times this season as he has been in a timeshare with Perez for the lead back. He finished with eight carries for 61 yards.
While only accumulating 156 total yards in the first half, in which CHS muffed three punts (losing one) and had several overthrows and drops in the passing game, a stout defense helped set up a 21-0 lead at the break.
Cleveland pulled away for good early in the second half, wasting no time.
Perez darted down the right sideline for the longest Blue Raider touchdown of the season of 82 yards. A fumble recovery by Benefield soon after set up a 26-yard leaping touchdown grab by standout junior Robert Flowers from Jackson Moore.
With 9:26 remaining in the third and CHS ahead 36-0 the running clock began.
Flowers now has nine touchdown grabs this season and a passing touchdown to reach double-digit scores through five games for the county’s leading receiver. He is up to 24 catches for 535 yards on the campaign.
Perez led all backs with 11 rushes for 120 yards.
“Our passing game missed some big plays, but I was proud of Jackson Moore and other guys for battling through sickness this week to play tonight,” Cummings said. “It was good to see the run game get going. We have to run the ball with consistency and authority in games the rest of the way.”
The longest play from scrimmage for the Mustangs (0-4) was a 15-yard hookup from Griffin Broome to Brody Swafford late in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense really played well against Knox Catholic for three quarters and held its own against Bearden too,” Benefield said. “This is going to help with our confidence. It’s time to go on a winning streak.”
Cummings told his group to celebrate all they wanted on the bus ride back, as a shutout was just what the doctor ordered.
“We made changes I think will pay dividends and make this team more of a family,” Cummings said.
“We have worked too hard to not all come together and accomplish things together. It’s time to get better Monday.”
Cleveland 7 14 15 7 — 43
Walker Valley 0 0 0 0 — 0
CHS — Victor Dodd 3 run (Kevin Gomez kick), 8:24
CHS — Jackson Moore 8 run (Gomez kick), 7:57
CHS — Josiah “Bug” Bowman 16 run (Gomez kick), 59.5
CHS — Jeffrey Perez 82 run (Lael Crisp 2-point run), 10:52
CHS — Robert Flowers 26 pass from Moore (Gomez kick), 9:26
CHS — “Bug” Bowman 4 run (Gomez kick), 7:12