The Class 4A No. 10 Tigers took advantage of Anniston’s mistakes and won in every aspect of the game, including on the scoreboard, 36-12.
“We overcame some adversity tonight with some injuries occurring to some key people,” Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt said. “I liked our offensive plan, and we executed it. We did what we had to do to win. I was really pleased with our starting defense, too, but when it came down to it, it was our offensive and defensive lines that played the best.”
The turning point in the Class 4A, Region 5 opener came almost immediately.
After Anniston (1-1, 0-1) turned the ball over on downs on its own 35-yard line, Cleburne County (2-0, 1-0) shot out to a 7-0 lead six plays later with tailback Trey Bolton punching it in from 6 yards out.
After the Bulldogs went three-and-out on their ensuing drive, Cleburne County was at it again. This time Bolton scored from 14 yards out. He finished with 127 yards on 22 carries and the two touchdowns.
“Last year, we weren’t able to convert on situations like we had tonight, but this year’s team is able to do that,” Shortt said. “I was pleased in the first half with the way we were able to put points on the board.”
With 2:00 left in the first quarter, the Tigers had a two-touchdown lead. They improved that lead to 29-0 through three quarters, before allowing a pair of touchdowns late.
“It’s hard against the No. 10 team in the state. You can’t afford to make mistakes and you have to play field position. That’s what happened,” Bulldogs coach Eddie Bullock said. “We got in some situations we didn’t take care of the field and didn’t have field position and experienced teams do both. That’s something we have to learn and I think we will learn it.”
Although Cleburne County didn’t add to its lead until late in the second quarter, the Tigers' defense held Anniston’s young offense in place. The Bulldogs did not gain a first down until after Cleburne County wide receiver Christian Henson had scored.
Even when Anniston got the ball moving, picking up two first downs in its final drive of the first half, Cleburne County intercepted a pass.
Anniston’s hopes of a comeback were nearly impossible in the third quarter. Cleburne County held onto the ball for exactly six minutes while traveling 58 yards on 12 plays. The drive ended with Cole Corkren running it into the end zone from 4 yards out.
Despite the offense putting on a show, leading by 27 points midway through the third quarter, Shortt said he was most happy about the way his defense played.
After the Tigers forced a safety to take a comfortable 29-0 lead into the fourth quarter, Shortt pulled his defensive starters.
“Our starting defense had their shutout,” Shortt said. “It’s big because we had to face a faster team at every position, and next week we have Munford.”
Shortly after the Tiger starters left the game, Anniston had its biggest play of the night. On third-and-three from the 46, quarterback Quint Dobbins hit tailback Donovan Lucas with a screen pass. Lucas took it nearly untouched to the end zone.
“That was perfect execution,” Bullock said. “They have a lot of confidence in that play. We just have to execute the rest of our offense like we do that play.”
With both teams’ reserves in, Isaiah Ware added to Cleburne County’s lead with a touchdown before Anniston’s Edward Montgomery scored in the final minutes of the game.
Dobbins threw for 58 yards for the Bulldogs on 3-of-11 passing. He also recorded 44 rushing yards.
For Cleburne County, quarterback Brady Padgett completed 9 of 14 passes for 85 yards, while Henson threw for 36 yards, as well.
Anniston will travel to Lincoln (0-2) next week, while Cleburne County will welcome Munford (2-0).
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star