The Cleburne Yellow Jackets battled perennial powerhouse Aledo in the first half with an inspired second-quarter effort, but the Bearcats flexed their muscles in the second half and pulled away for a 52-20 win.
No. 2-ranked Aledo held a 17-0 lead after the first quarter before Cleburne battled back in the second quarter on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Cleo Chandler to Jacarrean Gray and a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Gunner Hammond to make it 17-14 late in the first half.
Cleburne Coach Casey Walraven said he was “extremely proud” of his team for not hanging their heads down 17-0 early.
“Before the game we told them, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard, let’s just leave everything we’ve got out there,’” Walraven said. “The challenge after Burleson and Everman was to see how we would respond to finish the season with so much uncertainty. I couldn’t be more proud of how they stepped up and not only battled Aledo through all of the game, but being down like that and still having the mental fortitude to come back and make it a game and have a chance to win it at times.
“I’m just real proud of them. I think it says a lot about where we’re at. We’re still inconsistent with some things but I think the program is really building into something to where we can compete with elite teams in the state.”
After Cleburne cut the deficit to only three points, a couple of special teams miscues allowed Aledo to extend the lead. After Hammond’s five-yard touchdown run, the Bearcats had a big kick return to set the Bearcats up with a short field. Aledo took advantage as it scored a touchdown with 10 seconds left before the half to take a 24-14 advantage.
“We had a tough time in special teams on our kickoff coverage,” Walraven said. “We gave up an unfortunate kickoff return, which put them in phenomenal field position with only a minute to go. They ran a few plays, got in the red zone and they converted a third down and scored on us.”
Cleburne opened the third quarter with a an onside kick as the Jackets were determined to be aggressive and push the Bearcats, but Aledo recovered the kick and scored a touchdown on the first play in the opening seconds to push its lead to 31-14 lead.
“Coming out of halftime, we had already given up two really big kick returns and we had the mindset that we weren’t there to keep the game close, we were there to win it,” Walraven said. “So we’re down 10 and they were getting the ball, so we tried to get an onside. It was there, we just didn’t execute it. We had two onside kicks in a row where we tried to get the ball back to stay in the game and have a chance to win it, and we just didn’t get it done. Also with that, it’s Aledo being a championship program and they take so much pride in their special teams.”
Despite giving up quick back-to-back touchdowns, Cleburne kept battling as Hammond threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Chandler, who beat double coverage to make a highlight-reel catch as the Jackets cut the deficit to 11 at 31-20 after a missed PAT.
From there, however, Aledo ended the game on a 21-0 run to improve to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in District 5-5A Division II play. Cleburne fell to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in district play. Those touchdowns came on short fields as Cleburne was aggressive by going for it on fourth down to cut into Aledo’s lead.
“We went for it three times on fourth down in our own territory which gave them great field position, but we weren’t there to keep it close, we were there to win,” Walraven said. “The kids were on board with everything and really battled them the entire game until the final buzzer. Aledo knew they were in a fight. I know that.”
Chandler had his seventh game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage, to go along with a 55-yard touchdown pass.
“I was proud of what he did vs. Aledo,” Walraven said of Chandler. “He didn’t get to have the best statistical game against Timberview in what was another great battle against a state-ranked opponent. But going out and doing what he did against the best team in the state further proves he’s on an elite level and further proves how much colleges are struggling to find talent right now, looking at what the media’s hyped up instead of looking at actual players. Somebody’s fixing to get a phenomenal football player in Cleo Chandler.”