EAST BRAINERD, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Cleveland and East Hamilton shared the District 5-AAA championship during the regular season, but there will be no sharing between the two local rivals Friday night.
Only one team can earn the honor of being called a state semifinalist when they meet again in the Class 5A state playoffs in Week 13 of Friday Night Football. The winner will travel to either Fulton or Anderson County next week.
It was a tale of one half when the duo met during the regular season.
"The first time we played we had a pretty good first half," said Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink. "It was 21-20 at the end of the first half, but it was also 21-20 at the end of the second half."
Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, they were on the short end of that score.
"I think the defenses settled in a little bit in the second half," said East Hamilton head coach Ted Gatewood. "But we left some points on the board and I'm sure they think they left some points on the board, too."
The rematch will again be a battle of strength-on-strength.
Cleveland has proven to be one of the area's most prolific passing attacks with Herink having his choice of four different top-level receivers, led by speedsters D.J. Jones and Tyler Davis.
"It's tough on defenses. It's basically pick your poison," said Crawford. "You have to choose who you are going to make (Herink) throw it to. It's definitely helped us spread the field horizontally and spread the field vertically."
East Hamilton made some the proper adjustments to slow down Herink after his two first-half touchdown passes in the last meeting, and one of the area's top secondaries is excited to face the challenge again.
"What's a football game some great competition?" said Hurricanes' senior defensive back and Vanderbilt commit Tre Herndon. "We're always excited to go against top guys like that so we can see where we stand."
As a team, East Hamilton has been standing in this position before, having advanced to the Class 4A state quarterfinals last year before losing on the road to top-ranked Giles County.
Cleveland, meanwhile, has no player who played in a postseason game before this season. However, it's yet to phase the Blue Raiders just yet.
"We're playing well. We're a veteran group with a lot of juniors and seniors that play on Friday nights," Crawford said. "It's a group that's played together for a long time. A couple years ago they were just young. Last year they were older but I was new. Now this year we've got it all together."
Gatewood said his team wasn't phased in its first quarterfinal trip last year, and he doesn't expect the atmosphere, nor the stakes to intimidate Cleveland, either.
"I don't think that will be that big a deal. Everybody knows it's the playoffs. You don't have to tell the kids it's the playoffs," he said. "But at the same time, you have to approach it the same way you would have the last 12 weeks."
For a second straight week, revenge is a factor for East Hamilton. However, this week the motivation is on the opposite side.
The Hurricanes rejoiced in revenge against rival Ooltewah in last week's second round, but now it's Cleveland looking to avenge a regular season defeat.
"Any time in any sport when you lose a close game, your first thought is, 'I wish I could play them again,'" Crawford said. "We're fortunate in the fact we get to play them one more time. We'll see if we can play a little better this time."
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET at Hurricane Hill, with full coverage to follow at 11:10 p.m. ET on Week 13 of Friday Night Football.
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