E.A. Sports Today

Victory at last

Thursday football: Cleburne County runs to its first victory, snaps 13-game losing streak; Donoho falls to TCC, Munford wins

Cleburne County’s A.J. Brown (L) tries to run through the grasp of Lincoln’s Tre Howard. On the cover, the Tigers celebrate their first victory of the season. (Photos by Jonathan Fordham/J&E Art & Design)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

LINCOLN — Michael Shortt stood in the middle of the field Thursday night after excusing his team from the post-game huddle and after taking a few minutes to digest what had just occurred found himself fighting back tears.

Shortt’s Cleburne County football team had just scored its first victory of the season — a dramatic 42-35 win over Lincoln — and the scene took him back to four years ago.

Back then, the Tigers came to Keith Howard Memorial Stadium as an injury-riddled team needing a win to make the playoffs and did everything they needed to do with a playbook that could fit on one sheet of paper.

The stakes were just as high for this year’s team — not playoff like, but avoiding the prospect of its first winless season in 45 years with two defending state champions and Sylacauga left on the schedule — and they pulled this one off with a minimal of plays as well.

“I have to think that our kids tonight had that special feeling when it’s over that they did the things we had to do to win,” Shortt said. “I love this place. Maybe we quieted up some of our naysayers tonight. We’ve never been 0-10 and we sure weren’t going to part of that.

“It’s a big win for us. It’s a big win for our program because I think everybody wrote us off and thought we couldn’t be here. … This wasn’t one of those ‘this was the way it was supposed to turn out (wins)’ and this probably makes it a little more special, because of how the year has gone. It has gone very dramatic, it has not gone our way a lot of times, but if you just keep working good things will happen.”

The Tigers (1-6) snapped a 13-game losing streak with the win. Their last taste of victory came against Valley, Sept. 9, 2016 — the third game of last season. Their last road win came the week before at Talladega.

Armed with the same four plays they had when they came here four years ago, they rushed for 455 yards (on 65 carries) and held their hosts to only 106.

“It feels awesome,” fullback Cade Smith said. “We hadn’t gotten a win in a long time, it’s been over a year; it’s awesome. I’m really proud of my O-line, everybody on the defense did great. They played great.”

Things didn’t start well for the Tigers. Lincoln hit them with a 61-yard touchdown pass on the first snap of the game when eceiver Quin Carter kept his feet by rolling over the back of Cleburne County defensive back Anthoney Thompson. Carter scored four big-play touchdowns for the Golden Bears in the game.

The Tigers’ first possession ended in a third-down interception and Lincoln’s next three plays all went for more than 10 yards, prompting Shortt to call time to lay into his charges about the merits of giving effort.

“I just felt like at the time it was something that needed to happen because some of our young guys were starting to look down and say ‘Uh on, not again,’ and I just wasn’t going to let that happen,” Shortt said. “I’ve been very, very encouraging on them all year and I decided tonight they’ve grown up enough; it’s time to put your big boy pants on and I got after them pretty hard, and they responded to that. They took it the right way.”

The Tigers put together a long drive that ended with a fumble inside the 5 and then scored touchdowns on each of their next four possessions to open a 28-14 halftime lead. The defense, meanwhile, held the Golden Bears to 147 total yards after the rant, with 53 coming on Carter’s second long touchdown catch of the game.

AJ Brown rushed for 227 yards and two second-quarter touchdowns; he had 124 yards in the second quarter. Smith ran for 58 hard yards and scored four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 2:00 to play. Trevor Houston rushed for 134 yards, with runs of 39 and 33 yards in the winning drive.

The Tigers appeared headed to an easy win, leading 35-14 with eight minutes to play. But the Bears tied it at 35 with 4:59 to play on a 25-yard run by quarterback Javion Surles, a 30-yard fumble return by Carter and a 48-yard punt return by Carter.

The Bears still had time to tie it after Smith’s go-ahead touchdown, but the Tigers’ defense didn’t yield and Will Morrow interception at midfield ended the threat with a minute to play. Smith and Christopher Higgins both had eight tackles for Heflin; Higgins blocked a punt that set up Cleburne County’s first touchdown. Micaiah Ross had three sacks among his six tackles.

“I’m proud of our kids for not giving up there; because of everything that’s happened to us this year we easily could have given up there, but our kids found a way to win tonight,” Shortt said. “We’ve been close at times and we’ve been struggling to win, but tonight we did what we had to do to get a win and that can’t do nothing but build on to the rest of this year and on into next year.”

[table id=74 /]

Cleburne Co. 7 21 7 7 — 42
Lincoln 7 7 0 21 — 35

L – Quin Carter 61 pass from Javion Surles (Nick Pope kick), 11:38 1Q
CC – Cade Smith 1 run (Joseph Stephens kick), 0:20 1Q
CC – A.J. Brown 5 run (Joseph Stephens kick), 10:38 2Q
CC – Cade Smith 1 run (Joseph Stephens kick), 6:14 2Q
L – Quin Carter 53 pass from Javion Surles (Nick Pope kick), 5:04 2Q
CC – A.J. Brown 60 run (Joseph Stephens kick), 4:15 2Q
CC – Cade Smith 5 run (Joseph Stephens kick), 4:51 3Q
L – Javion Surles 25 run (Nick Pope kick), 7:54 4Q
L – Quin Carter 30 fumble return (Nick Pope kick), 6:30 4Q
L – Quin Carter 48 punt return (Nick Pope kick), 4:59 4Q
CC – Cade Smith 4 run (Joseph Stephens kick), 2:00 4Q

TCC 18, DONOHO 14: Buddy Ray caught a touchdown pass from Hall Billings in the first quarter to give the Falcons the lead and Tej Patel ran for another score in the third, but the Falcons couldn’t get the go-ahead score. Patel rushed for 80 yards.

MUNFORD 30, HANDLEY 0: The Lions’ defense held their fifth straight opponent to fewer than 10 points while handing the winless Tigers their second shutout of the season. Handley (0-7) now has more losses than any team that won a state title the previous year in the 2000s. The Tigers have three games remaining to avoid their first winless season since 1974. Leeds was 0-13 in 2011 after winning the title in 2010, but 10 of those losses were forfeited wins.

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