MUNFORD – What looked like it would be a blowout early turned into a nail biter for a while in the second half before the Munford Lions put it away late in a 33-21 win over Cleburne County on Friday.
The Lions jumped out to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Tigers really picked it up in the second half and cut it to 27-21 with 9:16 to play. But the Lions responded with an eight-play, 56-yard drive that took 4:11 off the clock and, more importantly, ended with Calvin "Rocky" Smith bulldozing his way up the middle for an 18-yard touchdown that sealed it.
Fifth-year Munford coach Will Wagnon was pleased with the win, which evened Munford's season mark at 1-1, but said his squad still has some things it has to clean up before next week's big Class 4A, Region 3 matchup with Leeds.
"We improved from last week," Wagnon said, referring to the Lions' 10-7 loss to Clay County Central in their season opener. "We executed better, but we're still not as consistent as we need to be offensively. Defensively we played good, but we shot ourselves in the foot. So we've got to clean up some stuff."
Wagnon also credited coach Michael Shortt's Tigers for being the tough opponent teams in this area always expect them to be.
"Coach Shortt is one of the best around, and you always know what you are going to get from his teams," Wagnon said. "It is always going to be the same. They are going to play hard and get after you just like they did us tonight."
Going into their season opener, Shortt wasn't sure what to expect from a younger squad that didn't have many experienced players among its upperclassmen, and in the early going it looked like the Tigers were severely outmanned as Munford opened up with touchdowns on three of its first four possessions.
Senior quarterback Brett Haynie found senior wideout Chris Haynes on a 19-yard fade route to the right pylon to open the scoring at 8:25 of the first quarter, and Seth Smith booted the first of his three extra points on the night to make it 7-0.
Haynie went to C.J. Chapman for his second scoring strike of the night on a beautiful out-and-up route that went for 70 yards and a 14-0 Munford lead with 1:43 left in the first quarter.
It appeared the rout was really on when Charles Smith took a shovel pitch from Haynie around right end up the right sideline for 17 yards and the Lions' third score of the night with 4:47 left before the half. Smith's PAT gave Munford a 21-0 lead, but the fireworks weren't over.
Two plays later, the Tigers' senior QB Brady Padgett found Jeremiah Blake in the left flat, and he turned it up and through the Munford defense for 79 yards and the score. Hunter Carlile's PAT cut it to 21-7 with 3:40 left in the half.
Munford responded with a 65-yard drive capped by a 2-yard plunge up the middle by Austin Stephens with 1:41 to go in the half. A missed PAT left it 27-7 as the two teams went the locker rooms.
Cleburne County started picking things up on its second drive of the second half when it went 91 yards in nine plays capped by an 18-yard scamper for the score around right end by Joshua Horn. Carlile added the PAT to make it 27-14 with 2:32 to go in the third quarter.
On Munford's next drive, Haynie was sacked and fumbled, and the Tigers' Mario Smith recovered and returned it 10 yards to the Lions' 23. From there, the Tigers needed seven plays to cover the distance, and Smith did the honors on the other end, crashing up the middle from the 1. Carlile's third PAT made it 27-21 with 9:16 to play.
The Tigers looked like they might have a chance when they forced Munford into a punting situation on the Lions' next drive, but they were flagged for roughing the kicker and Munford cashed in the mistake with Smith's game clincher with 4:57 to play.
Shortt said he was particularly proud of how his team played in the second half, especially considering it was Munford's second regular-season game to Cleburne County's first.
"I knew early on we were going to struggle some," Shortt said. "This was their second game and, even though we played a jamboree game last week, a jamboree is a lot different from a real ballgame. You could tell early on the game speed had a lot to do with the difference in the game. They just played faster than we did in the first half, but we picked it up.
"I was very pleased with the second-half effort. If we can play the rest of the year like we played in the second half, we'll end up being a good football team."
Wagnon said his squad has to clean up some penalties, bad snaps and even running a wrong play a time or two on offense and some missed tackles on defense, but he was still very glad to record the Lions' first win of the season.
"With this schedule we've got this year, any win is going to be a big one, because it's is going to be tough, and we are going to have to play good every week," Wagnon said.
Contact Jimmy Creed at email@example.com.