Prep football: Cleburne County knows all about tight games
by Jordan Smith
Special to The Star
Nov 14, 2013 | 1807 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jeremiah McElroy (6) grabs a interception against Anniston. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Jeremiah McElroy (6) grabs a interception against Anniston. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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In a perfect world, coach Michael Shortt would have his Cleburne County Tigers win every game.

However, the Tigers do not play in a perfect world, but Shortt is willing to accept winning by a large margin and losing by a small one. That is what they have done for the past two seasons.

Since the start of the 2012 season, 14 of the Tigers 21 games have been decided by seven or fewer points. They finished 5-5 in 2012 and are 7-4 this season heading into Friday night's home Class 4A playoff game against Central-Florence (9-2). A win will put them in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.

All nine of their losses came by seven or fewer points. Of their 12 wins in that span, the Tigers have averaged 34.4 points per win while giving up only 22.3.

“At first you think, 'Are we finishing?'” Shortt said. “Are we finishing the game? We keep getting beat there late towards the end. A lot of times I look back, and it’s a play or two here or there that just didn’t go our way.”

Those one or two plays cost the Tigers a playoff berth in 2012. They are in the playoffs this season after finishing third in Class 4A, Region 5. Shortt said he believes the reason for that is simply being the team that makes those crucial couple of plays.

“Losing some of those games,” Shortt said, “we’ve pointed out to them a lot of times it comes from a lack of focus and not paying attention to detail. Now that they’re doing a better job paying attention to detail and focusing more, some of those plays at the end of the game are starting to go our way. We’re starting to make those plays.”

Jeremiah McElroy took those words to heart. A senior safety, he has managed seven interceptions and recovered a fumble this season.

“That’s what I set my mind to do: have defensive goals,” McElroy said. "We have different turnover drills and go to different stations. We’re trying to do that all the time.”

Added Shortt: “He’s really come on this year. Some guys may have the ability, but they don’t have a knack for the ball. He just has a knack for being around the ball.”

Even with more focus being placed on creating turnovers, they still found themselves in several close games this season. That is because turnovers are only one factor. Who a team is playing is another. Of the four teams in Class 4A, Region 5 that made the playoffs, three advanced to the second round.

“It’s been going on for two years now,” Shortt said. “The first thing it does is show your region is real competitive and all your games are competitive. There’s not one team that much further ahead than everybody else.”

Shortt believes the Tigers’ 7-4 record does not accurately represent how well his team plays. That is a lesson Madison County learned last Friday when the Tigers scored a 17-14 win.
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Prep football: Cleburne County knows all about tight games by Jordan Smith
Special to The Star

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