Somehow, facing a do-or-die situation with their playoff hopes in the balance, the Cleburne County Tigers found a way to defeat Lincoln on the road last Friday. The final was 21-14. The Tigers upped their overall record to 6-3 and finished in third in Class 4A, Region 5 with a 4-3 region mark.

“We met two goals last week,” Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt said Wednesday. “We got a winning season and we got in the playoffs with that win.”

The Tigers travel to Woodland Friday to conclude their regular-season schedule. Their game in the opening round of the playoffs on November 8 will be in Gurley against Madison County.

Shortt said his No. 1 goal for the Woodland game would be for his players to stay healthy. The Tigers have already had more than their fair share of injuries. In some positions, there simply aren’t more reserves.

“I’d like to be 7-3. We’re going to go in there and do the best we can to do it,” Shortt said. “I also know that a lot of our offense won’t be shown.”

That’s because Cleburne County is still expanding the package of plays available to Christian Henson in his new role as quarterback following the season-ending injury to Brady Padgett.

“We’re starting to get more and more offense for him to run. A lot of the stuff we had in wasn’t stuff that he actually could run. Now, we’ve got more in and we’ve got another week this week to work on some more stuff that we can put in for the playoffs,” said Shortt of Henson’s development at quarterback.

Shortt offered one final prediction regarding the Woodland game.

“It’ll be a physical game because Woodland plays a physical style of football and we do, too,” he said.

The Tigers struck first against Lincoln, going 64 yards in nine plays the second time they had the ball. Along the way, Henson completed a 16-yard pass to Cameron Kerr while Trey Bolton had three 7-yard runs and a 12-yard carry before scoring on a 4-yard run. Anderson Jacks, 3-for-3 on extra points made it 7-0.

Cleburne County’s next score came when Bolton’s 3-yard run capped a six-play, 45-yard drive. The senior had gains of 17 yards, 12 yards and eight yards on that march. Cleburne County still led 14-0 at halftime.

The only score in the third quarter belonged to Lincoln and came on a pass from quarterback Chance Byrd to receiver Zay Caldwell from 33 yards out late in the third. A missed extra point left Cleburne County ahead 14-6 when the third quarter closed.

The Tigers answered immediately on Bolton’s 22-yard scoring run and led 21-6. Henson ran for 10 yards on a third down call to give the Tigers a fresh set of downs and Bolton picked up another first down on a fourth-and-1 carry.

“Our third-down conversion rate was great and that kept drives going and that kept the ball away from them and kept that clock moving. … Those third-down conversions are two more minutes we can run off the clock if we do it right,”Shortt said. “That’s big at the end.”

Lincoln went to its hurry-up offense and scored on another Byrd to Caldwell pass of 35 yards with 8:21 to play. Byrd then ran for the 2-point conversion, cutting Cleburne County’s lead to 21-14.

Cleburne County responded with a time-consuming, 11-play drive that featured eight carries by Bolton before turning the ball over on downs near the Lincoln 30-yard line with 1:49 to play. Shortt said he had hoped to get within field goal range. Even though that didn’t happen, the possession was important.

“We at least used a bunch of time up on the clock and made them waste their timeouts,” Shortt said. “They had no timeouts left when they started that last drive of theirs.”

The last gasp for the Golden Bears came with one second to play when Isaiah Ware intercepted Byrd’s final pass.

Cleburne County finished with 230 yards rushing. Bolton ran for 194 yards on 33 carries.

“Trey ran with a purpose the other night, no bouncing around,” said Shortt. “He got behind his shoulder pads and ran and got a lot of yards after contact. Our offensive linemen and receivers did a good job blocking.”

Brandon Horn ran seven times for 16 yards and Henson netted 14 yards on four carries. Henson was 2-for-5 passing for 19 yards. In addition to Kerr’s catch, Jeremiah Blake had one reception for three yards.

On defense, Alex Sandmann recorded a team-best 12 tackles. Geoffrey Teague had nine tackles and added an interception that ended the only Lincoln drive to reach Cleburne County territory in the first half. Mario Smith recorded eight tackles.

Matthew Morrow and Grant Corkren had six tackles each. Henson, Jeremiah McLeroy and Drake Williamson made five tackles apiece. Ware, Sam Cooper, Trevor Ivey, Matthew Shortt and Griffin Turner each recorded three tackles.

“Defensively, we pretty much kept their running game in check until right there at the end but that was quarterback scrambles. That wasn’t designed runs,” Shortt said. “I really felt like we had to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and we did against a very large opponent.”

“Our punt team did an exceptional job of keeping them pinned back. Most of the night, we did a great job with our punt team and our punt team coverage,” the coach noted.