HEFLIN — After two straight games struggling in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville finished strong Friday with a 35-28 win over Cleburne County.
With the win, the Golden Eagles finished their toughest stretch of the season, which featured two top 5 opponents, 2-2. The team had to overcome four straight roads games against Munford, Piedmont, Handley and Cleburne County. In those contests, the Golden Eagles averaged 37 points a game, after being held under 10 points twice in the first four games of the season.
“This was a big step for us tonight,” Jacksonville coach Clint Smith stated after the win. “I thought that Cleburne County had a great game plan … but our guys were able to settle down and adjust to it.”
Jim Ogle and Jacoby Zackery took over the ball game, as the two connected for four scores in the game. Zackery, a senior wide receiver, has been a reliable target the past two seasons for Ogle’s offense.
Zackery tallied 160 receiving yards on 11 receptions in the game. The biggest of those scores coming in the third quarter, as Ogle found him wide open in the middle of the field for a 68 yard score to extend the Golden Eagle’s lead to 35-14 in the second half.
“My mentality was just to give 4 (Ogle) a big target to throw it to, and just make plays,” Zackery said after the game.
Ogle ended the game with 253 yards on 19-of-25 completions. The sophomore has solidified himself as the next top quarterback prospect in Calhoun County, showing it tonight with five passing touchdowns.
Ky’dric Fisher caught Ogle’s other touchdown pass from 7 yards out to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter. Fisher finished with 47 total yards and the lone touchdown that didn't go to Zackery.
Cleburne County found its own playmaker in junior running back Devantae Cantrell, who picked up 232 total yards, with 212 of those yards coming on the ground. He found the end zone four times to carry the momentum for the Tigers’ offense.
“I just wanted to win, we got a chance to make the playoffs and we haven’t been in a while,” Cantrell said. “We just have to move forward. We got two more region games, so it’s not over yet.”
Although the Tigers’ offense was able to find success with their hurry-up style, most of their statistics came in the run game. Kyler McGrinn completed 57 percent of his passes with a touchdown to Cantrell, but tallied only 50 yards passing.
Friday’s game was a crucial one for the Class 4A, Region 4 playoff seeding. Coming into the contest, Cleburne County held a slight edge over the Golden Eagles for the 4th place spot. With the win, Jacksonville holds the tie-breaker over the Tigers if both teams win out their remaining schedules.
However, Jacksonville has a tall task ahead of them before they secure their playoff spot. 4A-Region 4 second place team, Cherokee County travels to Golden Eagle Stadium in two weeks to determine the fate of both teams. For the Warriors, a win would likely mean a first-round playoff game in Centre, and the Golden Eagles need to win to continue Clint Smith’s streak of eight straight playoff appearances.
What to know
—Jacksonville has won all four meetings against Cleburne County since becoming region opponents in 2018.
—Jacksonville starting running back Taj Morris exited the game after being hit in the eye in the first half. His replacement, Xzavarious Turner, had 48 yards on 13 carries.
—Jacksonville’s Smith on offensive production: “We had people step up and carry the load. … It was good job by our young guys to be the next man up.”
—Jacksonville’s Zackery on future mentality: “We just have to get through this by week. Get back healthy, and just win. That’s all there is to do now.”
—Cleburne County’s Cantrell on leadership role: “I just want to provide for my team as much as I can. Got to help them do everything right, and make big plans when I get the blocks.”
—Jacksonville (4-4, 3-2 4A-Region 4) will be open next week before their matchup in two weeks against Cherokee County. Cleburne County (4-3, 2-2 4A-Region 4) will travel to Cherokee County next Friday.