CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Ron Crawford's "playoff beard" is a sign Cleveland High feels a little better about its playoff standing this fall, but the Blue Raiders still refuse to leave anything to chance.
A share of the District 5-AAA championship is up for grabs as seventh-ranked Cleveland plays host to third-ranked Ooltewah in the Channel 3 Friday Night Football Game of the Week. It will be senior night at Benny Monroe Stadium for the Blue Raiders' regular season finale.
Cleveland (6-3, 4-1) and East Hamilton (7-1, 3-1) each have one loss in district play, while the Owls (7-1, 4-0), stand as the league's only remaining unbeaten. Both Ooltewah (vs. McMinn County) and East Hamilton (vs. Bradley Central) have one more regular season game left.
Both teams should be safely into the Class 5A playoff bracket, but there is still work to be done. Cleveland, who finished 5-5 last year and was removed from the postseason after incorrectly being included, can improve its position and likely secure a first-round home game by beating the Owls.
Last year's showdown came in the season's opening month and produced Crawford's first win at Cleveland. The Blue Raiders overcame nine penalties by forcing four Ooltewah turnovers in a 27-26 win.
This season, both teams have plowed ahead like well-oiled machines.
Austin Herink continues to pile up impressive numbers as the leader of Cleveland's high-octane offense. The senior quarterback threw for six touchdowns and ran for another in last week's rout of Walker Valley, matching his season-high of seven touchdowns he previously posted in Week 3 against McMinn County (three passing, four rushing).
However, the Blue Raiders have proven capable of running the ball when needed with T.J. Parker and Raekwon Bunion, who combined for 233 rushing yards a week earlier in a 21-20 win over rival Bradley Central.
Ooltewah certainly has the firepower to keep up with Cleveland, though, having scored at least 28 points in all but one of its games this season.
Bruising tailback Desmond Pittman is expected to return after missing the last two weeks with a knee injury, though Edward Hayes was more than serviceable in his stead. Quarterback Brody Binder is one of the most experienced signal callers in the Chattanooga area, and has one of the region's most talented wideouts at his disposal in Mike Williams.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. Paul Shahen and Mark Tipton will provide live coverage on Channel 3's Friday Night Football starting at 11:10 p.m. ET.
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