ARLINGTON — After an uninspiring first half where Cleburne fell behind 20-0, the Yellow Jackets’ second-half comeback bid fell short in a 26-23 loss to Arlington Seguin on Friday at Wilemon Field.
The win for Seguin snapped a 15-game losing streak as the Cougars (1-5, 1-3) recorded their first win in 694 days, since week 11 of the 2017 season.
Meanwhile, Cleburne lost its first game of the season to fall to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in district — a costly loss for the Jackets considering their upcoming schedule.
The Cougars built a 20-0 lead at halftime, dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Jackets managed only four first downs and 71 total yards in the first half while giving up 179 rushing yards.
Cleburne head coach Casey Walraven said the first half effort was a carryover from a subpar week of practice.
“I think it’s as about as frustrating as you can imagine,” Walraven said of the loss. “It was a tough week in practice. I was hoping it wouldn’t carry over into the game, but I always tell them the way we look in practice is the way we’re going to play.
“I take full responsibility in their effort. I’ve got to find better ways to motivate them. You hope you get to the point where just playing a game is enough motivation, but I’ve got to continue to dig and scratch and find ways to get them motivated in practice and to keep pushing forward. It’s only going to get tougher from here.”
The game started on a high note for Cleburne as Isaak Cunningham returned the game’s opening kickoff 64 yards down to the Seguin 27-yard line. But the Jacket offense sputtered out of the gates and it was all downhill from there.
After converting on a fourth-and-14, the Jackets appeared to score on a double pass, as Gunner Hammond threw back to Gavin Naquin, who connected with Tylar Chumley for a 21-yard touchdown pass. However, Cleburne was called for an ineligible player downfield — the first of 14 penalties and 140 penalty yards the Jackets accumulated on the night. Two plays later, Cleburne turned the ball over on downs.
Arlington Seguin took over and went 70 yards in eight plays, capped off by a 35-yard touchdown run by Jalen March on fourth-and-2 for a 7-0 lead with 3:46 left in the opening quarter.
After Cleburne’s offense went three-and-out — with Hammond under instant and constant pressure on nearly every pass attempt — the Cougars took over at their own 38. A few plays later, March scored on a 28-yard run for a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After two more Cleburne punts, March found the end zone again as he took off 82 yards for a 20-0 advantage with 5:42 left in the first half.
The Jackets’ offense couldn’t find any rhythm in the first half as Cleburne turned it over on downs twice and punted three times.
“Some of the keys to the game we had were to tackle well and take great angles, and we didn’t do that in the first half,” Walraven said. “And on offense, we had to be physical up front, and I think that might’ve been the softest we’ve played all year up front. Those were they keys we focused on, but it was not at all what we did, and it showed.”
In the third quarter, Cleburne’s defense forced a three-and-out, and the Jacket offense — jumpstarted by some tough running by Hammond — finally found some success.
Hammond led the way on an eight-play, 68-yard drive — overcoming multiple penalties — as he threw for 47 yards and rushed for 42 yards including a 13-yard TD run to get the Jackets on the board with 5:49 left in the third.
Cleburne’s sideline finally showed emotion as the Jackets recovered an onside kick. After a 25-yard run by Hammond, the Jackets scored on a nine-yard TD pass from Hammond to Naquin to pull to within 20-14 with 4:45 left in the third.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Jackets kicked deep and Seguin’s returner mishandled the ball and was tackled inside the 5. A block-in-the-back penalty pushed the ball to the 1-yard line, and Cleburne’s defense dropped March in the end zone for a safety as Cleburne cut the lead to four points at 20-16.
“They woke up a little bit,” Walraven said of the strong third quarter start. “It shouldn’t have been that way, but they woke up and came out with a little more fire. We got a little momentum from recovering the onside kick after we scored. But I feel like we were playing behind the 8-ball all night long.”
With momentum completely on Cleburne’s side and the Jackets set to get the ball with a chance to take the lead, there were three separate penalties on the ensuing safety kickoff — which took the officials nearly 10 minutes to sort out, which was then followed by penalties on three of the next four plays — completely bringing the game to a halt.
After working so hard to gain momentum and get back into the game, Walraven said it was frustrating to have the game slowed down at that moment.
“It’s frustrating and difficult, but I’ve learned we’ve got to play better than the refs call, and we certainly didn’t do that tonight,” Walraven said. “If we would’ve played better, we wouldn’t have had to worry about that. It’s part of the game and we didn’t take care of what we needed to.
“You can go down the list for why we lost this game, from coaching to special teams to offense to defense. There was not one point you can find it; it’s a team loss, for sure.”
After a couple of empty possessions by both teams, the Jackets were forced to punt, and Seguin freshman J.J Johnson, making his varsity debut, returned it 50 yards for a TD to give the Cougars a 26-16 lead with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
Then the Cougar defense intercepted Hammond’s deep pass as Arlington Seguin regained momentum.
With the Cougars on the move, Cleburne’s defense kept hope alive when Sterling Bryant intercepted a deflected pass at the Jacket 25-yard line.
After a 29-yard pass from Hammond to Cunningham, the duo hooked up again a couple plays later, this time on a 47-yard TD to pull the Jackets to within 3 points at 26-23 with 6:15 remaining.
Arlington Seguin began the next drive at its own 34-yard line, and the Cougars — aided by a defensive pass interference call on third-and-14 and an unsportsmanlike penalty — moved the ball inside the Cleburne 10-yard line, eating up 4:20 on the clock. On fourth-and-6 from the 8, Seguin’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete, giving the Jackets life.
Cleburne started at its own 8-yard line with 1:55 left and no timeouts. The Jackets quickly moved the ball 18 yards, but Hammond’s deep pass for Cunningham was underthrown and intercepted by Johnson to end the comeback attempt.
March led Seguin with 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
Hammond completed 12-of-26 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions with 88 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The Jackets will try to bounce back in week 7 when they host Burleson Centennial (5-1, 3-1).