The magical season for the Cleveland Central High School Wolves came to a sudden end here Friday night at Mickey Sellers Stadium.
The offense for the Wolves had a tough time putting points on the board as they lost to the Lake Cormorant Gators 16-7 in the first round of the 5A State Football Playoffs. The Wolves’ run at perfection come at an end at 12-1, while the Gators improved to 6-6 and will play Olive Branch in the second round Friday.
The Wolves, this year’s Region 2-5A Champions, were ranked No. 3 in 5A and No. 8 overall in the Mississippi Press Association Football Polls heading into the playoffs. They played 12 straight weeks without an open week entering the postseason.
"We played our butts off," Cleveland Central head football coach Ricky Smither said. "I'm going to give them (Lake Cormorant) credit because they won, but our kids played their tails off. All the pressure our kids have been under the whole year, the bubble finally busted. Like I just told them, I wouldn't rather be in any other looker room than with those guys because it has been a wild rough ride. These kids held true for 12 games. That 13th was a tough one."
Smither said the defeat doesn't take away from what the players accomplished.
"To do what they did and to bring the community together the way we did, to bring us together the way we did, there's no doubt I'm proud of them," Smither added.
The Wolves had some key injuries as senior quarterback Kamarion Williams was out with a high ankle sprain and senior Detevyion Butler was out with a broken foot. There were other players that were out with sicknesses like the flu.
"They didn't get to play tonight and that was unfortunate," Smither said. "There were some injuries there that we felt like would be best for their safety and their health if they didn't play. Did it hurt us? No. It just wasn't our night."
Both teams failed to score on their first possessions of the game. The Gators missed a field goal attempt, while the Wolves turned the ball over on downs.
The Gators put the first points of the game on the board as quarterback Ben Rohrbacher connected with Jalen Jordan on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 left in the first quarter. The point-after kick from Houston Coyle was good, and the Gators led 7-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cleveland Central's Demontavious King marched on a 47-yard kickoff return down to Lake Cormorant's 48-yard line. The Wolves couldn't take advantage of the field position as they were forced to punt. After Cleveland Central's defense forced Lake Cormorant to punt, the Wolves began their third possession of the game at their own 42-yard line. The Wolves went on their drive and with 6:20 left in the second quarter, Traveyon Craig galloped on a 14-yard touchdown run. The point-after kick from Cody Livingston was good and the Wolves had tied the game up at 7-7.
At the end of the first half, the Gators were able to take the lead going into halftime as Coyle kicked a 22-yard field goal to make score 10-7 in favor of Lake Cormorant going into the lockerroom at halftime.
The Gators were able to add on to the lead in the third quarter as Rohrbacher connected with Xavier Malone on a catch and run that resulted in a 71-yard touchdown with 2:36 left on the clock. Wolves defensive back Demarrion Jackson intercepted the two-point conversion pass, but the Gators had taken a 16-7 lead.
Cleveland Central battled hard through out the game but penalties in key times hurt the team. With 4:13 left in the game, Craig marched on an apparent 10-yard touchdown run but the play was called back due to holding. The Wolves couldn't get anything going, as the Gators were able to secure the win.
For the Wolves, Craig completed 10-of-16 passes for 136 yards with an interception and rushed for 46 yards with a touchdown on 16 carries, King caught five passes for 79 yards and Larry Tyler rushed for 38 yards on seven carries to lead the way.
For the Gators, Malone caught two passes for 104 yards with a touchdown, Brian Jackson ran for 127 yards on 21 carries and Rohrbacher completed 4-of-11 passes for 135 yards with two touchdowns and an interception to lead Lake Cormorant.
On defense for Cleveland Central, Shamar Sanders recorded nine total tackles including a tackle-for-loss, Nick Smith recorded seven total tackles including three tackles-for-loss, Malik Pates and Tyler had seven total tackles including a tackle-for-loss each, Marvin Willis had four tackles including three tackles-for-loss and Rodarrius Douglas intercepted a pass to lead the Wolves.