Tigers hit the road to play the Cubs

Cleburne County enters Friday’s game at Alexandria in less than ideal physical condition. It’s not the situation head football coach Michael Shortt would prefer entering any game, much less one against a long-time rival, but it’s the one in which the Tigers find themselves.

Alexandria is an atypical 1-3 on the season after losing last Friday at home to Etowah. Cleburne County dropped a 36-14 decision to Clay Central on the road last week and is now 2-2.

 “Alexandria will play well just because it’s us,” Short said prior to Wednesday’s practice. “They usually get a little bit better this time of the year and they did play better against Etowah, played a lot better. Right now, I’m not worried so much about Alexandria. I’m worried about us getting better. We’re so young.”

Against Clay Central, Cleburne County opened the game with a 12-play drive that covered 52 yards. A pair of 10-yard gains on passes from quarterback Brock Swafford to wide receiver Stashun Henson helped get the Tigers into the red zone. From there, Swafford connected with tight end Chad Brown for 16 yards and the first points of the contest. Kicker Hayden Stephens, who was 2-for-2 on extra points, bumped Cleburne County’s lead to 7-0.

Three plays later, the score was 7-7.

Cleburne County put together another lengthy scoring drive on the ensuing possession. This one covered 62 yards in 10 plays. Json Henson scored on a 1-yard run. The big gains along the way were a 10-yard run by Kade Clark and Nick Dunston’s 35-yard pickup on a pass from Swafford.

With the Tigers leading 14-7, Kale Dingler recovered a Clay Central fumble in the Volunteers’ territory. The Tigers moved to a first down inside the 10 then a penalty backed them up. The drive ended with no points when a pass bounced off its intended target and was intercepted. Again, the Tigers moved the ball but were unable to put points on the scoreboard after an untimely penalty.    

 “You’ve got to be able to score when you can,” Shortt said. “There were two times there that we could have scored and made it 21-7 or 28-7 and we didn’t score those times.”

Clay Central tied the game at 14-14 on a 77-yard punt return then returned an interception for the go-ahead touchdown and a 20-14 advantage.

 “We were able to run the ball successfully. We were able to throw the ball successfully. We were keeping the ball,” Shortt said of the first half, noting his team led 52 snaps to 12 in the first half. “We went for it on fourth down a couple of times because I felt like we had to. That gave us some first downs.”

Despite running just 12 offensive plays to Cleburne County’s 52, the Vols led 20-14 at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Cleburne County held Clay Central to a field goal. Late in the third, the Vols scored a touchdown for a 29-14 lead. Late in the fourth quarter, Clay Central scored for the final time.

“Them not playing anybody both ways really got to us late in the ball game,” Shortt said.  

Against the Volunteers, the Tigers ended with 272 yards of total offense, 152 yards on the ground and 120 yards through the air. Clay Central rushed for 242 yards and passed for 70 yards. Cleburne County led in first downs 14 to 13 and in turnovers three to one.  

Json Henson ran 17 times for 74 yards. Clark’s 18 carries gained 62 yards. Trevor Houston had four carries for 10 yards.

Swafford was 10-for-19 passing for 120 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

Dunston caught three passes for 55 yards. Stashun Henson made five catches for 39 yards. Chad Brown had one catch for 16 yards and JonDarious Young-Hampton one for 10 yards.

“Brock threw the ball well again. I think Nick had a good night catching the ball. Stashun had a good night catching the ball,” Shortt said.

On defense, Stashun Henson’s eight tackles led the Tigers. Cade Smith made seven stops and Chase Austin had six. Houston and Isavia Brown had five tackles each.

Dingler, Trevor Ivey and John Robinson made four tackles apiece. Dingler got Cleburne County’s only take-away with his fumble recovery. Josh Brown and Chad Brown each had three stops. Micaiah Ross, Sam Pate, Grayham Cheatwood and Young-Hampton had two tackles apiece.

  “Defensively, at times we played well and then at times they put us in some positions speed-wise that we had a little trouble tackling,” Shortt said. “Overall, I thought we played well enough the first half to win. The second half, we didn’t. I think a lot of that is we got worn down as the game went along.” 

Ranburne hopes to bounce back   

Horseshoe Bend returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and went on to defeat Ranburne 45-28 Friday in New Site.

“I thought it was a big part of the game,” Ranburne coach Stephen Bailey said of the 82-yard return. “As our kids came over afterwards, you could tell the look on their faces had changed. Immediately following that, we get the ball on the 10-yard line because we don’t field the kickoff very well. You get punched in the mouth then you step on your on toe.”   

 Horseshoe Bend quickly scored three more touchdowns in the opening quarter.

 Trailing 26-0 with 1:48 to play in the first quarter, Ranburne started what became an 83-yard scoring drive. A pass interference call against Horseshoe Bend got the Bulldogs moving. They overcame a quarterback sack and early in the second quarter Jordan English completed a deep throw to Josh Ralston at the Horseshoe Bend 20-yard line. On third-and-10, English hit Jake Burson in the left flat and Burson carried the ball to the 3. From there, Sam Calvert scored and the first of Jake Howle’s four extra points made it 26-7 with 10:36 remaining in the second quarter.

 Two plays later, the Bulldogs surrendered a 68-yard scoring run and by halftime the Generals led 45-7.

At halftime, Bailey made a decision to tighten his offensive linemen and run straight ahead.   

In the third quarter, Aaron Benefield’s 9-yard run took Ranburne to the Horseshoe Bend 1 and Benefield scored on the next snap.

 The Generals punted again, this time to Ranburne 35. With 11:03 to play, reserve quarterback Tye Bailey completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Landon Woodard. Ranburne’s final points came at the end of an 85-yard drive. On a third-and-10 play from the Generals’ 29, Benefield bulled his way to the 2. He was stopped inches short of the goal line on first-and-goal but scored on the next snap with 2:37 on the fourth-quarter clock.

As a team, the Bulldogs ran the ball 47 times for 170 yards. Ranburne completed 10 of 19 passes for 127 yards. Individually, Benefield had 13 carries for 106 yards. Calvert ran 17 times for 64 yards.

 English was 8-for-15 passing for 97 yards with two interceptions. Bailey completed 2 of 4 passes for 30 yards. Bradley Martin had two catches for 47 yards and Woodard two for 30 yards.

Riley Smith’s seven tackles led the defense. He had two tackles for lost yardage. Cooper Smith made six tackles, two for loss. Hunter McAdams was able to play for the first time this season and recorded four tackles, two for loss.

 Ranburne hosts Gaston Friday. Bailey said the visiting Bulldogs usually attack from a wing-and-slot look or a straight wing-T formation. When they pass, the tight end is a favorite target. On defense, Gaston will utilize both a three-man and a four-man front.

 Bailey said he’ll look for his Bulldogs to do a better job when tackling and to take proper angles to make tackles. Improvement on special teams will be a priority.