For the first time since their inaugural season of varsity football back in 2011, the Cleveland Rams are just two wins from a 3AA high school football championship.
Cleveland’s running game couldn’t be contained Friday night, as the Rams dominated the visiting Hillside Hornets 36-6 to send themselves to their program’s second-ever semifinal.
Cleveland (12-2) is known for its prolific passing game — spearheaded by junior quarterback Darius Ocean, whose 3,393 passing yards ranked third in the state heading into Friday night’s game.
But in this game, it was the Rams’ running backs who led the charge.
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Senior Tyson Dew, the team’s leading rusher, led the Rams to a 14-0 lead with short rushing touchdowns in each of the first two quarters. Junior Jalen Chadwick, the team’s second-string back, found paydirt three times in the fourth quarter to remove all doubt.
Cleveland head coach Scott Riley said he was proud of his running backs and offensive line for stepping up.
“They don’t get a lot of attention, but the (offensive) line did a great job tonight,” Riley said. “Everyone knows we can throw — we’ve got Darius Ocean in the passing game — but we can run the ball pretty well, too, and that keeps them off-balance.”
Cleveland will travel to Southeast Guilford next Friday night, with a berth in the state championship on the line. The Falcons narrowly defeated Dudley 21-18 to advance.
Though Riley wasn’t at the helm the last time the Rams were in this position, he was on the sidelines as an assistant coach. In that 2011 game, those Rams suffered a 64-7 drubbing at the hands of Havelock.
Riley is excited for the opportunity, but he’s not putting too much pressure on his players.
“All you can ask is that your kids give a great effort and play as hard as they can. Most times, that’s good enough,” Riley said. “If it’s not, we can still hang our hats on our efforts.”
Hillside’s lone score came with 11:42 remaining in the fourth quarter, on a three-yard touchdown from junior Brian Harrison to senior Myles Dillon.
Hillside (9-4) coach Ray Harrison credited Cleveland’s coaching staff for coming up with a strong gameplan.
“They hit us with some deep balls, and that loosened things up for the running game,” Harrison said. “Hats off to them.”
Despite the loss, Harrison said his young core is already eager to start preparing for next season.
“They approached me tonight and said, ‘Coach, can we go to the weight room tomorrow?’” Harrison said. “They like the energy of going to the playoffs and they just want to get back at it.”