E.A. Sports Today

Warriors wake up

Cherokee County comes alive in the second half to beat Cleburne County, end a tough season for the Tigers

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

CENTRE – The Cherokee County Warriors could have easily thrown in the towel after last week’s heartbreaking loss to Hokes Bluff. It was a game in which they had a two-touchdown lead at one point, and had they won it, it would have kept their playoff hopes alive.

Instead, Friday’s game was more about pride than anything else.

Behind a second-half rushing surge from sophomore quarterback Slade Alexander and senior running back Caden Hubbard, combined with a stingy defense, the Warriors were able to grind out a 24-6 victory over Cleburne County.

It’s the first time the Warriors (4-5, 3-4) have defeated the Tigers (2-8, 1-6) since the state championship season of 2009. Cleburne County had claimed the last six meetings.

“It was a big win tonight,” Cherokee County coach Tripp Curry said. “I could just see our kids playing down (after last week), but the second half they really fought hard. Defensively, you couldn’t ask for more than that. They were tough.”

It was tough for the Tigers to get much of anything going. They were held to just 78 total yards. Junior running back Arcavius Brown led them with 66 yards on 17 carries.

“They’ve got a good defensive front, and we knew that coming in,” Cleburne County assistant coach Rusty Mayfield said. “They have a lot of big guys, and with a wet field, it’s hard to get a push. They’ve got a good ball team. I take nothing away from them.”

But it was the Tigers who managed to hold a 6-3 lead at halftime on a rain-soaked Bobby Joe Johnson Field.

Kicker Martin Maer connected on a 22-yard field goal to with under a minute left in the first quarter to put the Warriors in front 3-0, but Cleburne County found the end zone first with just 42.8 seconds to go before halftime. Quarterback Reese Morrison connected on a 13-yard touchdown toss to Donovan Folks to cap an eight-play drive that ate up almost the final four minutes of the second quarter. Hayden Stephens’ extra point attempt was blocked, keeping the score at 6-3.

At halftime, Curry talked with offense about how it could get in the second half. The Warriors kept in the hands of Alexander and Hubbard, and it paid off.

Alexander finished with 172 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns. Hubbard had 21 carries for 139 yards and a score.

“We had to stick with it (the running game). We weren’t just going to quit,” Alexander said. “I told my O-line we were going to get this done. We’re going to execute things and get the running game going.”

“Our go-to for us was a lot of counter and middle stuff,” Hubbard said. “Once they started picking up on that, our line started adjusting where we could get outside. They did real good at adjusting, with audibles and stuff like that. I was real proud of them tonight.”

But before the Warrior offense finally scored its first touchdown, the defense provided a big defensive stop when it appeared the Tigers would take their opening drive of the second half and score. They marched down to the Cherokee County 23, but the Warriors pushed them back to the 33 behind three negative-yardage plays, including a 3-yard sack of Morrison on fourth down.

The Warrior offense cashed in the turnover on downs behind Alexander. He ran for 49 yards on the drive and completed a 12-yard pass to Austin Pruett to begin the drive. Alexander capped off the drive with a 10-yard run to give the Warriors a 10-6 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

Following a Tiger punt, Alexander scored again. This time, he dashed 30 yards to give the Warriors a 17-6 lead with 5:49 left in the game.

Cleburne County got a big return to the Warrior 40 from Folks, but it was all for naught when Morrison was picked off by Pruett to kill the drive.

The Warriors cashed the turnover in on Hubbard’s 1-yard run with 39.2 seconds remaining in the game for the final.

The loss ended a tough season for Cleburne County.

“They’ve been through everything,” Mayfield said. “Coach (Michael) Shortt has been out. We’ve had a heap of injuries. I’m proud of them. We finished the year with two wins, and that’s more than we had last year, but that’s certainly not where we want to be. We’re working hard to get past that and get Cleburne County football to where it once was and where we need to be.

“The kids know that doesn’t come without hard work. They’re buying in. We’ve got a new weight room and they’re working hard in it every single day. They’re focusing more and more. We’ve just got to get more physical and tackle a lot better and not give up so many points.”

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald.

Cherokee County 24, Cleburne County 6
Team stats Cleb Cher

First downs 7 23
Rushes-yds 33-49 49-318
Passes 4-13-1 4-12-1
Passing yds 28 16
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Punts-avg 5-35.0 3-32.3
Penalties-yds 6-60 5-45

Scoring summary
Cleburne Co. 0 6 0 0 – 6
Cherokee Co. 3 0 7 14 – 24

Cher – Martin Maer 22 FG
Cleb – Donovan Folks 14 pass from Reese Morrison (kick failed)
Cher – Slade Alexander 10 run (Martin Maer kick)
Cher – Slade Alexander 30 run (Martin Maer kick)
Cher – Caden Hubbard 1 run (Martin Maer kick)

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