CLAYTON — It was only minutes after a 59-50 loss to Orange that had ended the Cleveland Rams’ football season, but coach Marc Morris had no trouble finding positives about the year that had culminated with a see-saw battle in the second round of the state 3AA playoffs.
This was a special season for the Rams, a special group of seniors.
For these Rams, it was about more than 2013, it was about four years. The Cleveland seniors were the first group of football players that entered the new school as ninth-graders and they accomplished a lot in their final year.
There was the stunning victory over 4A power Garner in the second game of the season, when the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the area. Then the first conference championship for the Rams, who went through the Two Rivers 3A with a 6-0 record.
“Tonight is really about our seniors and what they have done for our program for four years, the stats they have put up and the wins,” Morris said. “I’m so proud of our kids and proud of our program. They battled all year. We felt like we could have played better early but the kids hung in there and won a conference championship for the first time in school history.
“They have competed since the first day they walked on this campus. Each kid we have had has just been a pleasure.”
Running back Isaac Martin, one of those seniors, rushed for 268 yards and three touchdowns against Orange, finishing the season with 2,194 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns.
“Martin came in with a little tweaked ankle,” Morris said. “He just gutted it up and played tonight. He had some good runs, some tough runs. He battled and battled and played like a true champion. Lot of credit goes to him. He’s been a good leader for us and been our one back for four years.”
The Rams, who finished 9-4, rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half to pull within 51-50 but simply couldn’t get past an explosive Orange team.
“That was just two good teams battling it out,” Morris said. “Unfortunately, one of us had to be on the short end of the stick and it was us tonight.”
The loss still stung, but it couldn’t diminish how hard this team had worked and how far it had come, Morris said.
“We’re proud of our young men,” Morris said. “They came a long way. We graduated 20 or 25 seniors last year, a great group of kids. These kids just buckled down, got in the weight room and worked really hard and played a hard nonconference schedule to start the year in preparation for our conference schedule.”
Morris had a roster that is loaded with juniors, including quarter Aaron Farmer, who had 227 yards passing with two touchdowns and also ran for two touchdowns against Orange. Farmer finished the season with 1,383 yards passing.
“There is a lot to build on out here,” Morris said. “We have a great underclassmen group coming back.”
But this senior class will be missed. It will always have a special place for the Rams, the first group that started at the school as ninth-graders and the first to take home a conference championship.