The Cleveland Cobras have consistently been a playoff team over the past decade with a championship appearance in 2015 and a 10-4 finish just last year. However, in 2017 they find themselves in unfamiliar territory at 0-2.
“In our 10-year history, we’ve never had two losses in a row,” Cobras owner Jessie Caldwell told Developmental Football USA. “These two losses were by a combined four points.”
The Cobras lost a heartbreaker to the Erie Express on Saturday, 20-18, to open up Premier Amateur Football League play. Cleveland’s other two-point loss came in the pre-season to the Cleveland Rams.
With a little bit of time to work out the kinks, the Cobras are confident they can put together a strong finish to the young season.
“The South Buffalo Celtics has stopped playing this year, so what would have been our next game is now a bye week,” Caldwell said. “We have now, with the holiday, three weeks to straighten the ship. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll finish this seven 7-1 again, same as last year.”
The Cobras will for their skill players to turn in more highlight reel performances to kick things off offensively for Cleveland.
“We’re very excited about our receivers,” Caldwell said. “That’s the heart of our offense. T.Y. Williams, he played at Ohio State briefly, on Saturday he had five catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. He’s a big receiver. Someone we were missing Saturday was Bryant Milligan, he played at Marshall. He led the PAFL last year in receptions and touchdowns. We were missing him Saturday and we’ll see if some of the new guys can help us out, wide receiver is our strong point.”
Veteran quarterback Demonte Clements looks to pick right up where he left off last year as he distributes the ball to this year’s deep group of wide outs.
“He led the league last year in yards and touchdowns,” Caldwell said. “He’s getting used to the new wide receivers. Once that clicks, I know we’ll be where we were last year.”
Defensively, the Cobras are led by a fierce veteran-led linebacking core.
“Our linebackers are a strong point,” Caldwell said. “Ryan Adkins is our middle linebacker. He played at St. Ed’s and Mount Union. He’s been with me nine years and he’s one of the toughest linebackers in the league. If anybody hates somebody, they hate him. He’s a dog.
“We also have Freddie Lennox. He had two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and eight or nine tackles Saturday at the outside linebacker spot. He’s a force. He was a state champion sprinter, he’s really quick off the edge. There’s highlights on YouTube of him playing for the Cobras. We’ve also got Rich Starr, who is running for District 5 councilman in Cleveland, he had to be at a fundraiser Saturday instead of the game.”
With a history full of deep playoff runs, the bar is always raised high for the Cobras, and 2017 is no different.
“In 2015, we ran the gauntlet on the road, all of our playoff games were on the road and we ended up in the championship,” Caldwell said. “Last year, we lost in the second round. We had some people missing and that was our downfall there. This year, I think these guys are hungry enough. They know what they’ve done in the past and what they need to do to correct it and move forward.”
However, before Cleveland concerns itself with post-season, there’s still a full slate of league games ahead of them that need not be overlooked.
“Right now, we’ve still got Erie Express, who we just played, we’ll see them again,” Caldwell said. “We’ll see the NEO Predators. Summit County Storm is always a tough team, we’ll see them once. Our biggest challenge should be when we face Erie again in Erie. It’ll all come down to that game for the division. We do play the Ohio Raiders, Jermaine Campbell’s team. With SBC folding, we picked them up as a replacement.
“We’re looking forward to an exciting season. We like being the underdogs.”