The Cleburne County Tigers won’t wait until after Christmas to begin their preparations for a return to the AHSAA football playoffs they missed this season and last. Head coach Michael Shortt said Wednesday his players will begin lifting weights next week, take a week off for the school’s Thanksgiving break then return for two more weeks of workouts before Christmas break.

“We’ve got three good weeks to work between now and Christmas,” Shortt said.   

Shortt praised the seniors on this year’s team for their leadership and work ethic despite facing adversity, particularly a seemingly never-ending stream of injuries, over the past two seasons.

“They gave everything that they could,” Shortt said of the group. “I hope that the lessons they’ve learned with all the adversity they’ve been through will help them when they become men later on in life.”

Shortt noted that the returning players are anxious to start the process of gaining strength to become better.  

 “We’re not happy with the last two years. We’re going to work extremely hard to change that. We’re looking forward to seeing the new classifications come out, seeing where we’re going to be, but we’ll be excited to get a new year started no matter what,” he said.

Visiting Fyffe showed why the Red Devils have won two of the last three football state championships in Class 2A and are entering this year’s 2A playoffs this week 10-0 and ranked No. 1. The Red Devils scored five times in the first half and eventually downed the Tigers 49-7. The loss ended the Tigers’ season at 1-9.   

Cleburne County’s touchdown came in the third quarter. Fyffe’s quarterback couldn’t get a handle on a low snap and the Tigers recovered the loose ball at the Fyffe 36-yard line. On the next play, wide receiver Isavia Brown ran a stop-and-go route down the Cleburne County sideline. He snagged quarterback Brock Swafford’s pass at the 7 and kept his balance long enough to reach the 2. Running back Trevor Houston scored on the next play, clearing the line at right tackle on blocking by center Wes Salter, guards Valick Nolen and John Conkle, tackle Alex Bolden and tight end Micaiah Ross. Hayden Stephens added the extra point.    

Cleburne County ran for 49 yards and passed for 91 while Fyffe gained 275 yards on the ground and 24 through the air. Sophomore running back A.J. Brown netted 30 yards on 11 carries. Classmate Christian Seale finished with four carries for 16 yards.

Swafford was 8-for-15 passing for 80 yards. Sophomore Reese Morrison was 2-for-3 for 11 yards. Isavia Brown ended with four receptions for 49 yards. Gage Harcrow caught two passes for 17 yards, Nick Dunston two for 16 yards, Luke Downey one for six and TaiShun Hall one for three.

Chase Austin led in tackles with six. Dunston, C.J. Higgins and Zac Williamson made five tackles apiece. Houston, Cale Dingler, Ross and Harcrow each recorded four tackles. A.J. Brown and Grayham Cheatwood made three stops each. Landon Whitmore recovered a fumble.