Cleveland Hill was down in the third quarter and had just turned the ball over. Coach Glen Graham turned to his team on the sideline and hollered at them, telling them that he knew they were frustrated, but he needed them to keep working.
They did. The Golden Eagles, ran their way back into the lead, came up with some big defensive plays and then ran out the clock to fend off a stern challenge from Wilson, 16-13, before an estimated 800 at Carl J. Kuras Field.
Junior Brandon Thomas ran for two touchdowns and 81 yards on 18 carries for Cleveland Hill (4-0), which is ranked fourth in The News small school poll.
"It was a character win," said Graham. "Wilson is a good football team and they always play us tough. I was happy at the end that guys were able to come through. We told them it's all about trust. We trusted them to get the job done and our guys got it done."
Cleveland Hill junior Josh White had 14 tackles and recovered the fumble that set up the go-ahead score late in the third quarter. The Golden Eagles took the lead on a 5-yard run by Thomas in which he ran to the right behind a nice push from the offensive line. That was followed by a two-point conversion run by senior Jonathan Thomas for the 16-13 lead.
"We just all rallied," senior quarterback Jacob Radlich. "We all trusted each other that we could come out and do it. We knew we had it in the bag when we started playing how we could. That's the kind of football Cleveland Hill can play."
Wilson had been very effective moving the ball in the first half, but Cleve Hill's defense stiffened at the right times. The Lakemen recovered a Cleve Hill fumble to take over at its 22 with 9:12 left. Wilson earned a first down to the Cleve Hill 25, but the Cleve Hill defense caught Wilson running backs in the backfield for losses on two straight plays and a sack by senior Sharieff Fareed-Muhammad forced Wilson to punt from near midfield.
The Golden Eagles, as it did throughout the second half, moved the ball well on the ground as Thomas went for a 23-yard gain to the Cleve Hill 40. On third-and-2 with 2:06 left, Cleve Hill got another big first down from Jonathan Thomas, who ran to the left to ensure the Golden Eagles could run out the clock.
"I knew it was on the line in that situation to wrap up the game," said Jonathan Thomas.
Wilson got timely runs from senior Justin Slango (101 yards on 19 carries) and composed passing from junior Tim Walch (9 of 12, 64 yards) as it took the lead in the first half.
After Brandon Thomas' 1-yard score helped Cleveland Hill to an 8-0 lead with 3:23 left in the first quarter, the Lakemen had the better of the play in the second.
Wilson cut the lead to 8-6 with 10:54 left in the second when Slango ran to the left on a counter in which most of the side was wide open for a 20-yard touchdown run. Wilson added another score in the final minute of the half. On third-and-goal from the 9, Walch hung up a nice pass for senior Tayler Thilk (five catches, 33 yards) on the left side of the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-8 lead with 21 seconds left in the half.