Weeks of effort to get better finally paid dividends for the Cleburne County Tigers in their game at Lincoln on Oct. 12. The Tigers downed the Golden Bears 42-35 but it wasn’t a cakewalk. The Bears scored on a long pass on the first play from scrimmage and threatened again on their ensuing possession. Cleburne County led 35-14 after three quarters then Lincoln struck for three quick touchdowns before Cade Smith’s 4-yard scoring run provided the margin of victory.

“Those were the two things that I was most happy about, how we overcame the adversity at the beginning of the game and how we overcame the adversity toward the end of the game,” Cleburne County head coach Michael Shortt said prior to Wednesday’s practice

Lincoln scored on a 61-yard pass to take a 7-0 lead. After Cleburne County’s first possession ended on an interception, the Bears ran for 13 yards and 12 yards on consecutive plays, prompting a time out by Shortt. Shortt said he challenged the Tigers, particularly the younger players, to regain their composure and fight back. The response was a turnover on downs, highlighted by a quarterback for a 3-yard loss on fourth down by Smith and Gage Harcrow.

A fumble inside the Lincoln 5-yard line ended Cleburne County’s next possession but the Tigers finally caught a break when a short punt gave them the ball at the Lincoln 17. On the fifth play of the series, Smith scored on a 1-yard run. Hayden Stephens, 6-for-6 on extra points for the game, made it 7-7 late in the first quarter.

The Bears fumbled on the kickoff return and Trevor Houston recovered. Cleburne County moved 33 yards in six plays. A.J. Brown’s 5-yard run over the right side made it 14-7. Smith scored the second of his four touchdowns on a 1-yard run to complete a 52-yard drive. Brown had two 13-yard carries along the way. A 52-yard touchdown pass after a bobbled snap got Lincoln close at 21-14.

Brown answered immediately for Cleburne County. Perfect blocking by the front of center Wes Salter, guards Ryan Day and Valick Nolen and tackles Alex Bolden and Ben Oswalt freed Brown for a 60-yard touchdown run at right tackle and gave the Tigers the 28-14 halftime lead they enjoyed.

The Tigers lost another fumble on the initial possession of the second half but the defense forced a three-and-out punt. Houston’s 21-yard punt return reached the Cleburne County 46 and Smith ended a 54-yard drive with 5-yard run. Brown’s 23-yard gain was the big play in the march.

Lincoln tied the game in the fourth quarter with three consecutive touchdowns. The first came on a 25-yard run, the second on a 35-yard fumble recovery and the third on a 54-yard punt return. At 35-35, Lincoln’s kickoff reached the end zone and the Tigers started on their 20. On third-and-seven, Houston took a handoff around left end, pulled away from would-be tacklers and picked up 39 yards. Two snaps later, Houston cut up at left tackle for a 33-yard gain to the Lincoln 4. Smith scored the winning touchdown on the next play.

Will Morrow’s interception at midfield ended Lincoln’s final possession and the clock expired three plays later.                                      

Overall, the Tigers rushed for 490 yards, part of a game plan that called for long possessions to keep Lincoln’s offense off the field. A.J. Brown carried 24 times for 233 yards and two scores. Houston netted 142 yards on 11 carries. Smith ran 18 times for 83 yards and four touchdowns. Christian Seale gained 19 yards on four tries. Isavia Brown had one run for nine yards and Anthony Thompson one for four yards.

Smith and C.J. Higgins each made eight tackles. Houston and Micaiah Ross had six tackles apiece. Three of the tackles Ross made were behind the line of scrimmage. Morrow had four tackles to go with his victory-sealing interception. Harcrow and Tyler Higgins had three tackles apiece. Harcrow made two behind the line and Higgins one. Isavia Brown had an interception that ended a Lincoln threat late in the third quarter.

Following their win at Lincoln, the Tigers were back at work in Monday’s practice – continuing the theme of “us getting better” that has become their mantra. Friday’s home game against Beauregard will be an enormous challenge. The Hornets are the lone undefeated team in Class 5A, Region 4 at 4-0 and have rolled to five consecutive wins. They put up 61, 47, 42 and 45 points in their first four wins. Their closest region game came last week in a 37-7 win over Clay Central. La’Damian Webb, last year’s Mr. Football as a junior and headed to Mississippi State next year on a football scholarship, is Beauregard’s workhorse at running back.