LYNNVILLE — The Cascade Champions haven’t had a 5-0 start since the 2008 season, until now.
Cascade (5-0, 2-0) won its fifth-straight game to start the 2021 season on Friday night, scoring the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter to stun the Richland Raiders, 21-14.
Cascade never led until it mattered most, when Elijah Arnold bulldozed his way through the Raider defensive line with one second left to score the game-winning touchdown.
“We’re the cardiac kids. We like to make it interesting. They did what they’re supposed to do. They stayed in the game the whole time with the delay and all the injuries we had, we played the game until the final whistle and you can’t ask for more than that,” Champion coach Jake Tyre said.
Cascade entered Friday night’s Region 5-AA matchup riding an unbeaten streak to start the 2021 campaign and not only had to battle a hostile road environment, but the elements as well.
Following a scoreless first quarter, the game was halted because of a lightning delay with 11:44 left in the first half.
After an approximate 30-minute delay, Cascade forced a quick Richland punt and took possession on its own 21-yard line.
With a steady mix of pass and run plays, Cascade appeared to have a big gain on a pass from senior quarterback Ryan Inmon to Hayden Dowell set up the Champs into Richland territory.
But on the same play, while Cascade pushed the pile to pick up more yardage, Richland (1-4, 0-2) stripped the ball and took over possession on the 46-yard line with 8:15 left in the half.
The Raiders chewed up nearly eight minutes of game clock on the following drive that finished with a one-yard touchdown by Sam Edwards at the 1:25 mark in the second quarter.
Things nearly took a disastrous turn for Cascade after the Champions fumbled the ensuing kickoff on their own 20-yard line.
With a dwindling clock, the Cascade defense held strong and forced Richland to attempt a 28-yard field goal, which missed wide right just before the half.
After forcing a punt on the first drive of the third quarter, Cascade finally mobilized its offense on a scoring drive that spanned just over three minutes that churned out 58 yards of offense before Ryan Inmon broke loose on a 39-yard score with 6:03 left on the clock.
Drake Hodge connected on his first of three successful kicks to tie the game at seven apiece.
After Inmon’s score, Richland orchestrated another lengthy drive that chewed up nearly six minutes off the clock.
The Raiders were able to keep the chains moving on the drive, twice converting on third down and once on fourth down before retaking the lead on a seven-yard run by Edwards as zeroes hit the clock.
As the quickly as the momentum shifted in the Raiders’ favor following Edwards’ second score of the night, Cascade snatched it right back, barely 15 seconds later.
On the ensuing kickoff, which opened the fourth quarter, Xamarion Dixon took the return inside the Cascade 10-yard line, found his blockers along the right sideline and returned the kickoff 95 yards to once again knot the score after Hodge’s second kick of the night.
“We were setting up all week for a wall on that side. He (Dixon) got it and went with it,” Tyre said.
The two teams continued to play the field position game until Cascade punted with under five minutes left in regulation, setting up the Raiders with first down from their own 20-yard line.
Three plays later, Champion sophomore Dylan Crouch came through with perhaps the biggest defensive play of the night— a tackle on a Raider pass reception that netted zero yards, prompting a Richland punt with 3:01 left on the clock.
Taking over possession on the Richland 41-yard line, and a full supply of timeouts left in the arsenal, Inmon methodically moved Cascade into the red zone, gaining 36 yards on five carries before the drive stalled inside the five.
As time dwindled, Cascade lined up and Inmon took the direct snap and appeared to break the plane of the goal line, but was eventually ruled short, with eight seconds left.
Cascade then turned to senior quarterback Elijah Arnold, who finished the drive on a quarterback sneak to secure the final score of the night.
In total, Cascade gained 231 offensive yards, with 160 coming on the ground.
Inmon led the attack with 11 carries for 108 yards on the ground and also completed 3-of-7 passes for 46 yards as well.
The Raiders proved to be a resilient bunch, relying on an effective pass game on third down.
Richland quarterback Bryce Miller completed 8-of-16 passes for 97 yards.
As a team, the Raiders totaled 265 yards of offense on 60 offensive plays.
While the defense came through with the needed stops when it mattered most, defending against the effective third-down pass is something that has to be improve as the season marches on.
“We weren’t coming up on them like we should have been. We have to be able to attack that a little better,” he said.
Still, it was Crouch sniffing out a third-down screen pass that forced the final Raider punt of the night that set up Cascade’s game-winning drive.
Friday night’s win marked the second Region 5-AA win of the season and sets the Champions on a collision course with the Forrest Rockets, who also won their second region game of the season on Friday night, beating Summertown 33-7.
The 5-0 mark is the best start to the season by a Cascade team since the 2008 squad that won 12-straight, including a push to the state semifinals.
While a 5-0 start is nothing to look past, Tyre says his team is far from complacent, despite the best start in 13 years.
“We’re not there yet to get complacent. We have some injuries we have to battle through. We have a lot we have to do— a lot we have to work on,” he said.
Cascade steps out of region play next Friday and will travel to Unionville for the annual Battle of Bedford against Community before returning home to the Stable on October 1 to face the Forrest Rockets (4-1, 2-0) in what could be the deciding game for the Region 5-AA title.
Cascade 0 0 14 7 — 21
Richland 0 7 7 0 — 14
R — Sam Edwards 1 run, (Jessie James kick), 1:25.
C — Ryan Inmon 39 run, (Drake Hodge kick), 6:03.
R — Edwards 7 run, (James kick), 0:00.
C — Elijah Arnold 1 run, (Hodge kick), 0:00.