Even with his team up by four scores with just nine minutes to play, Cleveland coach Marc Morris knew Triton was far from beaten.
“I’ve played them a lot and every one’s been a big game,” said Morris, who coached at Harnett Central before taking the Cleveland job. “They’re too good – coaches, players, program – for that. We knew we’d have to really earn it.”
And the Rams did just that, converting a fourth-and-5 from their own 35-yard line with 88 seconds to play to hold on for a 31-28 victory Friday night.
Cleveland (5-3, 2-0 Two Rivers 3A) led 31-7 with 9:38 to play before a furious comeback by the 10th-ranked Hawks cut the lead to three.
That’s when Rams quarterback Aaron Farmer hit Patrick Jesequel on a slant pattern for a 13-yard gain that allowed Cleveland to run out the clock and record its first victory over Triton in three tries.
“We saw something there we thought we could take advantage of,” Morris said. “All the credit to Aaron for stepping into the throw and Patrick for hanging on. Just a great play.”
Senior running back Isaac Martin, a Shrine Bowl selection, had most of the big plays through the first three quarters for Cleveland. Martin ran for 269 yards on 36 carries, scoring three touchdowns.
“It’s a great feeling,” Martin said. “We’ve put in a lot of work and our entire team deserves this.”
But after Paul Johnson added a 23-yard field goal to put the Rams up 31-7 with 9:38 to play, Triton jumped back into the game. Zach Wade ran 65 yards for a TD on the first play of Triton’s next drive. The Hawks recovered the onside kick and were within 31-20 eight plays later on a 3-yard TD run by Devonte Stewart.
Cleveland had to punt on its next drive, giving Triton (6-2, 1-1) another chance, which the Hawks made quick work of as Jeremy Legged scored on a 5-yard TD run and ran in the two-point conversion to get within 31-28.
Cleveland appeared to take control late in the first quarter after a 74-yard TD run by Zach Wade was called back for a chop block. On the next play, Cleveland’s Delaney Ahola intercepted a Triton pass near midfield.
Four plays later, Rams quarterback Aaron Farmer kept the ball up the middle on the option for a 10-yard TD run and Cleveland’s lead jumped back to 14 points at 21-7.
The Rams extended the lead to 28-7 on a 6-yard Martin TD run in the third quarter.