KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Ron Crawford reminded his team it's the journey, not the destination that is the most important.
And what a journey it was this season for Cleveland football.
After going winless in the postseason the past eleven years, the Blue Raiders won a trio of postseason games this fall before their remarkable run ended with a 49-14 loss at Knoxville West in the Class 5A state semifinals Friday night.
"You try to put it in perspective," Crawford said. "These seniors and this staff were able to make it to the semifinals. That's a great year. If you could get here every year, I think you'd take it.
"But obviously the way it ended was really disappointing."
The Rebels, who beat Cleveland 35-25 on the same field earlier in the year, jumped out to a quick early lead and never looked back. The Blue Raiders fumbled four times in their first four possessions and also failed on fourth down twice in the first half while building up a 35-0 deficit before the break.
T.J. Parker fumbled in West territory on the opening drive of the second half and Jeff Bronner returned it 67 yards for a score and a 42-0 lead. Cleveland finally cracked the scoreboard with a pair of Austin Herink-to-Tyler Davis touchdown passes in the fourth quarter -- one from 25 yards and the other from 67.
Herink finished with 216 yards passing, while Davis caught eight passes for 139 yards.
"It hurts, but this senior class has meant a lot to our school and our program," said Herink, who played his final high school game. "At the end of the day, we brought Cleveland football back to where it needs to be.
"I'm just so thankful to have played with these guys. I'll never forget them. It's been a great ride."
That ride resulted in the program's first playoff victory since 2002 and first state semifinal appearance since 1995, which was the last year the Blue Raiders won a state title. Cleveland's 10-4 record was its best since going 11-1 and losing in the state quarterfinals in 1996.
"We turned this thing around the last two years," Crawford said. "This is a great senior class. They hadn't had any postseason success the last decade, and here we are in our second year together.
"It was just a great year."
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