Two undefeated division records were on the line Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
And after a close fight to the bitter end, Nathan Hale’s came out unscathed with a 22-20 victory over Cleveland.
“It was driving me crazy,” Nathan Hale quarterback Winston Hallam-Eames said of the closeness of the game.
The Raiders improved to 3-0 in Metro League play (3-2 overall), while the Eagles fell to 3-1 (3-2 overall).
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In the first quarter, Nathan Hale came out swinging with a 41-yard touchdown run by Hallam-Eames followed by a successful two-point conversion.
But that would be the only score of the first quarter thanks to solid defensive performances from both sides.
The rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair in which neither team scored consecutive touchdowns.
Nathan Hale coach Hoover Hopkins said before the game that his linebackers and defensive backs were outstanding, but he also described Cleveland’s linebackers as “very good.”
That showed in the game, as Nathan Hale ended the game with 231 yards of total offense, while Cleveland ended with 272.
It also showed by Cleveland intercepting two of Hallam-Eames’s passes and Nathan Hale picking off one of Amonte Phillips’ passes.
And the many passes broken up by the hands of aggressive defenders.
But Hopkins knew it would be that way.
“You have to win,” Hopkins said of the game’s stakes. “When you’re playing a division opponent, it’s a must-win.”
A two-play sequence in the third quarter illustrated desperate efforts given by both teams — especially on the defensive end.
First, a 24-yard run by Cleveland’s Rachaun McConico ended with a fumble that Nathan Hale recovered. On the next play, Hallam-Eames’ pass was intercepted by Dale Daniels, putting the ball right back at the initial spot of the fumble.
“Both teams were playing as hard as they could play,” Hopkins said.
That didn’t mean that he was pleased with the overall performance.
“I don’t know that we had an edge in this game,” Hopkins said.
None, perhaps, except the final score — one that kept his team perfect in Metro League play.