Cleburne County plays tonight

Cleburne County returns to Class 5A, Region 4 football action tonight at Lincoln. The unusual Thursday night game follows a policy in Talladega County of not playing games on the Friday night of the fall NASCAR race weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway. The Golden Bears are 1-6 overall and 1-3 in Region 4 games with a 24-14 win over Valley. To pick up their first win of the season the Tigers (0-6) will need to counter Lincoln’s team speed and limit explosive plays.        

Tigers’ head coach Michael Shortt said Wednesday that piecing together offensive and defensive lines continued to be a focal point of practices. Injuries and illness have hit the Tigers hard, particularly along the line. Shortt noted that on the offensive line only one player has been in the same position the entire season. With so much having gone wrong, the focus in recent weeks has been to win the next game, be 1-0 after each game.   

“Our kids have played hard. They continue to play hard each week and have had great practices. Our seniors have done a good job of leading. We’re just trying to go 1-0,” Shortt said.   

At Wedowee last Friday, Randolph County was too strong and too experienced for Cleburne County, winning 42-14. Randolph County piled up 371 yards of total offense and 21 first downs to 159 yards of total offense and five first downs for Cleburne County. Most of the difference came on the ground. The home team ran for 284 yards while the visiting Tigers netted 89 rushing yards.

Randolph County scored the first three times it had the ball on drives of 81, 74 and 61 yards then returned an interception about 50 yards for a fourth touchdown.

Following the interception, quarterback Brock Swafford and wide receiver Nick Dunston combined on what appeared to be a 60-yard touchdown pass. From the Cleburne County 40-yard line, Swafford hit Dunston in stride behind the defenders at the Randolph County 37 and Dunston raced into the end zone but the play was called back on a questionable flag for an ineligible receiver downfield. At halftime, Cleburne County trailed 28-0.               

Randolph County upped its lead to 35-0 on the opening possession of the second half.

Late in the third quarter, Tyler Higgins recorded Cleburne County ‘s first points when he returned a fumble 81 yards. Hayden Stephens then kicked the first of his two extra points. Early in the fourth quarter, Higgins recovered a second fumble.                                                 

Cleburne County’s final touchdown came on a 1-yard run by Rustin Roberts at the end of a 70-yard drive. Reserve quarterback Reese Morrison converted on two third-and-long situations with completed passes. The first went to Zane Farr for 19 yards and the second to Luke Downey for 26 yards.  

A.J. Brown led Cleburne County with 24 rushing yards on seven carries. Cade Smith ran five times for 21 yards. Isavia Brown gained 14 yards on two tries, Farr 14 yards on three carries and Roberts 11 yards on four attempts.

Swafford was 3-for-6 passing for 13 yards. Morrison was 3-for-4 for 57 yards. In addition to the catches by Farr and Downey, TaiShun Hall had one reception for 12 yards, Dunston two for eight yards and Smith one for five yards.   

On defense, Farr recorded 11 tackles. Smith made nine stops. C.J. Higgins and Micaiah Ross each had eight tackles. Trevor Houston, A.J. Brown and Tyler Higgins had seven tackles apiece. Chase Austin recorded six tackles. Will Morrow and Anthony Thompson made five tackles each and Dunston recorded four tackles. 

 Bulldogs will host Lanett this week

Highly regarded Lanett invades Ranburne’s Harlen Robinson Field on Friday night for a Class 2A, Region 5 football game. The Panthers (7-0) are ranked No. 2 in the current Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A poll. Bulldogs coach Stephen Bailey sees no sign his players will be intimidated.

 “I feel like we’re going to play to the best of our ability and play hard,” Bailey said following Wednesday morning’s practice. “At this point with these kids, I don’t see any regressing going on.”

Lanett is quarterbacked by sophomore Kristian Story who has completed 60 of his 95 passes for 1,617 yards and 19 touchdowns so far this season. He has a 6-foot-7 receiver on one side of the field and a 6-5 target on the other side.

The Bulldogs fell to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in region games with a 34-28 region loss at Reeltown last Friday.

 “There were two or three plays where we made a mistake,” Bailey said of the loss.

Even then, the Bulldogs were almost able to complete a late rally. Bailey said they reached the Reeltown 9-yard line with 16 seconds to play and made two throws toward the end zone that fell incomplete. The second popped out of Bradley Martin’s grasp in the end zone as he hit the ground after diving for a tipped pass intended for Jake Burson.

 That’s disheartening,” Bailey said of the narrow loss, “but at the same time they’ve got to come away from that understanding how close we are and how far we’ve come.”

Against Reeltown, the Bulldogs opened with a time-consuming drive that took more than five minutes off the clock and ended on a 4-yard touchdown run by Aaron Benefield, following left tackle Brock Young and left guard Brennen Gaines into the end zone. The first of Young’s four consecutive extra points made it 7-0 Bulldogs with 6:50 to play in the first quarter. Then came the first of the mistakes, a missed assignment on the kickoff that led to a touchdown on the return.

Reeltown added a second touchdown for a 14-7 edge but Jacob Cofield recovered a muffed punt at the Reeltown 28-yard line late in the second quarter. Quarterback Josh Ralston’s 3-yard run with 27 seconds left in the half made the halftime score 14-14. Reeltown tallied two touchdowns in the third quarter for a 27-14 lead but Ralston slipped around the left corner and into the end zone with 1:29 remaining in the third to narrow Ranburne’s deficit to 27-21.

A questionable holding call with about four minutes to play wiped out a touchdown by the Bulldogs. On the next play, the Rebels intercepted a tipped pass. A 71-yard touchdown run on another of the mistakes Bailey noted pushed Reeltown ahead 34-21 with 3:30 to play.

Ralston’s kickoff return to the Ranburne 47 gave the Bulldogs life. His 25-yard touchdown pass to Burson down the home sideline made the score 34-28 with 2:30 left. The ensuing onside kick didn’t travel the necessary 10 yards but the Bulldogs held the Rebels on downs at the Ranburne 49, setting the stage for the final-second heroics.          

 Ralston was 12-for-20 passing for 147 yards. Landon Woodard had four catches for 34 yards. Burson caught three passes for 30 yards. Benefield’s three receptions covered 20 yards. Martin caught one pass for 55 yards and Hayden Simmons one for eight yards.

 Ralston netted 77 yards rushing on 12 tries. Benefield ran 15 times for 64 yards. Sam Calvert added 18 yards on eight carries and Burson picked up 10 yards on two attempts.

 Woodard and Ralston each recorded seven tackles. Benefield and Burson had five tackles apiece. Sean Pollard made four stops and caused a fumble. Gaines and Young each had three tackles. Two of Young’s came behind the line. Calvert had two tackles. Gaines and Benefield each recorded a quarterback sack and Gaines blocked a punt.