The Cleburne Yellow Jackets overcame some inconsistencies Friday night to capture a 48-35 win over Chisholm Trail at Yellow Jacket Stadium to open the 2019 season with a 2-0 record.
The two teams combined for nearly 1,100 total yards from scrimmage and 58 first downs, but Cleburne jumped out to a two-possession lead early and never surrendered the lead.
“I'm real proud of the win,” Cleburne coach Casey Walraven said. “I told them no matter how we get them, we're going to celebrate our wins. Being 2-0, we're grateful for it. But our play has got to get a lot more consistent to be able to compete in district. We're inconsistent and undisciplined on a lot of things, so we've got to get that better.”
Cleburne's offense had 10 plays that went for at least 15 yards to help stay ahead of the Rangers as junior running back Cleo Chandler led the charge. Chandler rushed for 261 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He ripped off runs of 75 and 68 yards to set up touchdowns.
“Cleo became the player we've all been waiting on,” Walraven said. “I challenged him and said it's time to emerge. And he responded greatly. I'm proud of him because we've been trying to pry that out of him for a long time. To see it on display is real gratifying for him.”
While Cleburne's defense had its struggles against Chisholm Trail's run-pass option offense, the Jackets won the turnover battle, 5-1. Cleburne recovered three fumbles to go along with interceptions from Ja'den Moblin and Anthony Chanta.
The five takeaways, along with two stops on fourth down, by Cleburne's defense made up for allowing 493 total yards and 28 first downs to the Rangers, who also converted on 9-of-13 third downs.
“Defensively, the positives were we did figure out a way to get the turnovers,” Walraven said. “We were not good on third down. Our third-down defense was pretty bad. I thought we played on our heels a lot tonight. But it's good to see it now and have a week to work on it.”
While Cleburne jumped out to a 13-0 lead, the Jackets couldn't pull away from the Rangers in the first half, as the teams exchanged touchdowns in the second quarter.
With Cleburne holding a 34-20 lead at halftime, the Rangers got the ball to start the third quarter looking to keep the trend of swapping touchdowns going. But Cleburne's defense forced a timely three-and-out.
On the punt, the Jackets brought pressure on the right side, forcing the punter to try to scramble for the first down, but Cleburne senior Braxton Bailey dragged the runner down short of the first-down marker to force a turnover on downs on the Rangers' side of the field.
A couple minutes later, Cleburne took its first three-possession lead of the game on a 10-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Gunner Hammond to senior receiver Gabriel Griggs for a 41-20 advantage with 8:29 left in the third.
The closest Chisholm Trail would get the rest of the way was 13 points.
“That's one of our goals is to score on our first possession of each half and to stop the opponent on their first possession of each half because those are momentum builders,” Walraven said. “We got that done. But it's about being consistent after that.
“Having a two-score cushion for the majority of the game, that's never enough to be comfortable but it's enough to keep the pressure on the other team. We got very inconsistent and undisciplined there for a little bit and it was enough to let them stay in the game. Then we figured out a way to respond.”
The Rangers had a golden opportunity to cut the deficit to a one-score difference early in the fourth quarter. After Chisholm Trail scored on a 28-yard pass from Garrison Haskell to Isaiah Ortega to make it 41-28, Cleburne turned the ball over on downs at the Rangers' 36-yard line.
On the next play, Haskell went deep to Elijah Stallworth for a 68-yard gain that set up a first down from the Cleburne 15. But the snap was low on the next play, and Cleburne's Jaxon Bigham recovered the loose ball.
Two plays later, Chandler took off for a 68-yard run then scored from a yard out on the following play to reclaim a three-score lead at 48-28 with 8:23 left to essentially seal the deal.
After accounting for six touchdowns in Cleburne's season opener, Hammond threw for four touchdowns and ran in another for a five-TD night as he completed 12-of-22 passes for 178 yards with 124 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Cleburne amassed 589 total yards with 30 first downs. After rushing for nearly 500 yards in last year's win over Chisholm Trail, Cleburne nearly matched it as the Jackets rushed for 411 yards.
Haskell was 19-of-34 passing for 313 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while Stallworth finished with six catches for 110 yards.
Cleburne started the game strong with a 61-yard drive capped off by a one-yard quarterback sneak from Hammond. Later in the opening quarter, the Jackets went up 13-0 on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Hammond to junior wide receiver Tylar Chumley on a third-and-10.
Needing an answer, the Rangers did just that as Chisholm Trail went 71 yards on nine plays, capped off by a 33-yard touchdown pass from Haskell to Ortega to make it 13-7 with 27 seconds left in the first.
The Jackets responded early in the second quarter in what would be the beginning of a back-and-forth exchange of touchdowns to end the first half.
Cleburne went 60 yards in six plays as Hammond connected with Isaak Cunningham on a 30-yard touchdown pass for a 20-7 lead.
Chisholm Trail responded with a six-play drive of its own that covered 74 yards, as Jaylon Coulson weaved his way through the Cleburne defense on a 27-yard scoring run to pull to within 20-13.
Cleburne answered back as the Jackets marched 70 yards on eight plays — all on the ground — with Chandler scoring on a five-yard run to re-establish a two-possession advantage at 27-13 with 5:37 left until the half.
After a Chisholm Trail touchdown again cut the deficit to one score late in the first half, things weren't going well for Cleburne's offense, backed up at its own 13 facing a second-and-22.
The Jackets were called for three penalties in a four-play span. But on second-and-23 from the 16, Chandler broke free for a 75-yard run to set the Jackets up with a first-and-goal from the 9. One play later, Hammond tossed a nine-yard touchdown to senior tight end Ethan Steck with 13 seconds left before halftime as Cleburne took a 14-point lead into the break.
The Jackets have a bye during week 3 before opening district play at Waco University on Sept. 20.