Missing their head coach and their regular quarterback — not to mention the typical in-game adversity that comes with a season opener — the Tigers roared to a 44-20 victory over Weaver at L.E. Bell Field.
Trey Bolton ran for 225 yards and three touchdowns against his former team and backup quarterback Christian Henson did an admirable job managing a game that could have gone so wrong.
Tigers coach Michael Shortt was reduced to an observer after being treated for kidney stones in Anniston earlier in the day.
Regular quarterback Brady Padgett was out with mononucleosis.
Padgett was semi-suited up but watched from the sideline. There was some uncertainty whether Shortt would attend, but he watched the whole thing from a spot in the press box.
During a break in the second quarter, with his team leading 24-7, he told The Anniston Star he was “pleased” with effort his team was giving.
“I’m just a cheerleader tonight,” Shortt said. “I had to be here tonight. This is my daddy’s first night not to be here.”
Shortt lost his father, Glenn, over the summer.
For all the emotion going on around them — a helicopter even delivered the game ball — it didn’t seem to affect the Tigers’ play.
“I think it’s just because of the way we work, the way we roll,” offensive coordinator Vaughn Lee said. “Everybody knows who’s in charge when we’ve got the ball and everybody knows who’s in charge when they have the ball. (Defensive coordinator Ron) Ervin did a great job tonight. We left him alone and he was always a step ahead.
“I told the kids before the game I really wasn’t worried about offensively and defensively; I just felt like we were going to really roll. Before we went out we decided we were going to play hard for Coach Shortt. He’s had a rough few months. We just wanted to make sure when he came back that it was all on a positive note and we were ready to go to work in our region.”
Bolton was the big star. Playing against his former mates for the second year in a row, he had 122 yards in the first half.
He scored on runs of 26, 13 and 13 yards.
“It was a great opportunity to play against them again,” said Bolton, a Bearcat through his freshman year. “Last year I didn’t too well. It was only about 112 yards. Tonight, our team played together and our line blocked excellently, and I thank them for that.”
The plan for Henson was to rotate him every third series, but the senior was thrust into the starter’s role by Padgett’s illness.
Henson responded by passing for 106 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for two others.
Weaver coach Daryl Hamby knew all along his team was facing a tough opponent that didn’t need any extra incentive.
The Tigers, preseason No. 10 in the Class 4A poll, outgained the Bearcats 444 yards to 273. They had more rushing yards (338) than Weaver had in total offense.
Still, the Bearcats rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit to get within four points, 24-20 when an extra point clattered off the left upright with 1:44 left in the third quarter.
Austin Jennings scored a 29-yard touchdown on a tipped ball and Chris Troge scored on a 2-yard run.
But Cleburne County answered on the next possession with a 47-yard touchdown run by Henson and two Bolton touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.
“We made too many mistakes to play with a good team … and they capitalized on any mistake we made,” Hamby said. “We’ll get better. We’re going to learn from this. Obviously you can learn from a loss, but don’t let learn too many times.
“I’ll feel good if we respond well to the bad things that happen.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.