The Bulldogs got past Cleburne County 15-13 in a region opener that had enough weirdness to fill a scary story.
The biggest thing Anniston coach Eddie Bullock will take away from the victory, though, is his Bulldogs (2-0) came from a 13-6 halftime deficit to do it.
It was a completely different circumstance from the 27-0 lead they had at halftime in their opener at Greenville.
“Doing that was extremely important,” Bullock said. “I have a mixture of youth and experience on the team, but those experienced guys are playing in positions they typically don’t play in. We have the potential to be very, very good or borderline to where we could lose a lot of close games due to inexperience, and tonight, by being able to pull out this close victory, it helped us.
“We had a very poor week of preparation and I think the guys actually got an opportunity to see if you don’t come and prepare like you need to, you’ll lose. Our season is going to potentially be a one- or two- or three-touchdown game the whole year. We’ll have at least three or four more games like this.”
Bullock knew it was going to be a typically tight Anniston-Heflin game, and this one had more turns in it than the road that leads to L.E. Bell Field.
The Bulldogs (2-0) scored the winning points when unbelievably reliable Cleburne County long snapper Andrew Rutledge’s punt snap sailed out of the end zone for a safety with 7:08 left in the fourth quarter. They got the game-tying touchdown after the Tigers fumbled at the 2 after they had just stopped the Bulldogs on fourth down.
Anniston preserved the win in an equally bizarre fashion, keeping the ball through the closing minutes after recovering a partially blocked punt that glanced off a Cleburne County player. That play alone denied the Tigers any chance of bringing on strong-legged kicker Tito Roblero for a game-winning field goal.
“It was weird; I’ve never played in a game like that,” Anniston quarterback Spencer Howard said. “It was crazy. Adversity is all it was, and we were able to face it.
“It’s hard to come back on a good team that plays so. We had a poor week of preparation, but we pulled it out.”
The craziness didn’t just go Anniston’s way. The Tigers (0-2) took the lead on Blake Turner’s 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter and extended it to 13-6 at the half on a Brady Padgett 1-yard run after Turner led a charge that swamped Anniston punter Ryan Lindsey at the 5.
Anniston’s Zondrick Foster scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter, but the Bulldogs missed the extra point.
Both of Anniston’s touchdowns came after Cleburne County turnovers.
For Cleburne County, it was the second tough loss in as many weeks. The Tigers lost their opener to Weaver 13-7. In that game, their defense played well enough to win, the offense just didn’t score enough points. On this night, the defense played well again and until the fourth quarter, it looked like this time they scored enough points.
“We played a lot better this week and that’s what you look for from Game 1 to Game 2,” Tigers coach Michael Shortt said. “We were a lot better football team tonight than we were last week; they made some plays that we didn’t make.
“You look out there and our kids battled; we battled all night long. We did a lot of good things tonight, but of course we had a few things that didn’t go our way. We battled them right up to the end. That’s the way our region is. It’s going to be very competitive and each week is going to be the same type week, every game.”
In a game where yardage was hard to come by, Cleburne County’s Trey Bolton led all rushers with 89 yards on 17 carries. Anniston’s Rashard Williams rushed for 84 yards on 16 carries. Howard rushed for 57 yards on 11 carries and completed 8 of 12 passes for 64 yards.
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.