Cleveland’s football uniforms look like those of the University of North Carolina so the Rams should look like they belong at UNC’s Kenan Stadium on Thursday night at 7 p.m. when they meet Mount Tabor for the NCHSAA 3-AA football championship.
Cleveland, the No. 1 seed in the East, turned back No. 8 Clayton for the regional title, 49-21, on Friday night.
Mount Tabor, the No. 2 seed in the West, advanced to the state final with a 24-20 win over No. 8 Dudley.
The trip to Chapel Hill appeared doubtful for the Rams early on Friday night as Clayton jumped out to a 14-0 lead with the Comets striking first on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Noah Anderson to Jayden Farrington.
Clayton finished 8-2, both losses coming on Cleveland’s field. The Comets were topped, 34-27, on March 26.
Cleveland (10-0) began its comeback as Skyler Locklear hit Jashawn Middleton for a 59-yard touchdown. The Rams tied the score at 14 as Locklear connected with Nick Roccia for a 26-yard score.
Rushing TDs of 26 and 2 yards from Isaac Piatek helped Cleveland to a 28-21 halftime lead.
Rams coach Scott Riley credited his team’s will power.
“I don’t know if it’s the result of the pandemic but we thought about it for so long before we got to play,” Riley said. “We were being dictated when we could practice and what we could do. Once you set foot on the football field, you have total control of your destiny. They really embraced that.
“I’m so proud of them for taking charge. … We’re going to try to prove we’re the best against a very good football team.”
Locklear completed 17 of 27 passes for 258 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He had 13 keepers for 111 yards and a score.
Piatek carried 22 times for 114 yards and three TDs.
Middleton finished with 10 catches for 146 yards.
The Ram defense held the visitors scoreless in the second half. Hunter Morris led the hosts with nine tackles.