Sawyer Cleveland’s job for Crescent Valley High is relatively simple: distribute the football and let the Raiders’ dangerous playmakers do the rest.
With Cleveland taking the snaps, CV’s spread attack has blossomed into the Mid-Willamette Conference’s top scoring offense. The unbeaten Raiders (6-0, 4-0) are putting up 38.2 points per game — the fourth-highest mark in 5A — entering Thursday’s nonconference matchup with 6A Forest Grove (1-5) at Field of Dreams.
“Coming into this year, I was hoping we were going to be this good, but it’s crazy how far we’ve come,” said Cleveland, a junior. “I never really expected to be doing as well as we are.”
Cleveland has completed 78 of 123 passes (63.4 percent) for 1,280 yards with 14 touchdowns and just five interceptions this season. The 6-foot-4, 180-pounder was 17 of 22 for 329 yards and five scores in last week’s 33-25 road victory at Central, throwing TD passes to Tariq Harris, Briley Knight, Cam Sanders and Talanoa Hufanga (twice).
CV coach Scott Sanders did expect the offense, which is averaging 450.3 yards per game, to take a step forward in 2017. But Cleveland’s rapid ascendance has triggered an even larger jump.
“I knew we would be pretty physical up front with our big line and I also knew the athletes we had on the edge,” coach Sanders said. “And Sawyer has come along a lot better than we thought, thank goodness. That’s allowed us to put Briley out on the edge and not have to do the whole dual-quarterback thing.”
The Raiders, who are No. 2 in the OSAA 5A power rankings, entered fall camp without a penciled-in starter at quarterback.
Hufanga, the team’s signal caller the previous two and a half seasons, had been moved to receiver to limit his usage. That left Knight, a senior, and Cleveland in a battle for the vacant spot.
The coaching staff wound up choosing Cleveland, allowing the smaller, quicker Knight to play receiver.
“They are both good quarterbacks,” Sanders said. “It’s just a matter of what could Briley do for us outside of that spot. Briley catching the ball and running, that’s dangerous.
“We already had Tariq out there with height, we had Talanoa with speed and now we’ve got Briley out there that’s just a little scatter back. He’ll catch it and make guys miss and go.”
Knight had a 34-yard catch-and-run to the end zone that sealed the victory at Central. He also snagged the game-winning two-point conversion against Corvallis and came down with a critical 32-yard reception late in CV’s thrilling comeback at Lebanon.
Harris, a 6-foot-3 senior, has four 100-yard receiving games this season.
“When I look at Sawyer, he knows what I want to do,” Harris said. “That’s how much chemistry we have right now. It’s like having a twin brother throwing the ball to you. We just have that connection where we feel like we can do it together.”
Cleveland made two starts last year while Hufanga was sidelined and saw meaningful minutes in several more games.
The experience gave Cleveland an extra boost of confidence heading into his junior year.
“Playing when Talanoa was out really helped me,” Cleveland said. “And just knowing that I had to compete more to get this spot made me keep working at it. Because if I would’ve just had the job, I probably wouldn’t have been working as hard as I was.”
Throughout the offseason, Cleveland regularly trained with the receivers to develop better rapport.
The results speak for themselves.
“Sawyer has a nice touch on his ball now and he’s learned the game,” coach Sanders said. “He made a point to throw this summer with all his teammates, learn the system we put in and get to know the different speeds of each receiver. So he knows to put air under it or rifle it down the middle.”
Added Harris: “Sawyer put in the work. All summer, we would come out here and do routes. He found out where to put the ball, how to throw the ball. He put in more work than any quarterback I know and he just got better.”