Onside kicks, flea flickers and good ole straight-down-your-throat running the ball.
With the scoreboard behind him reading a 42-28 win, Michael Shortt’s game face was interrupted at a reporter’s question.
“Yeah,” the Cleburne County coach said with a chuckle, “there’s something left in the playbook.”
But before the critical region win was in the books, there was work still to do after a four-touchdown first half.
Alexandria used its one-two punch to cut its deficit to two scores with back-to-back touchdowns, bookending the end of the first half and the start of the second. Jarline Lee had the first, and Justice Owens the second.
And as the Alexandria duo was looking to make a comeback, the Tigers were faltering. Their first drive of the second half was atrocious — First down, running back slipped; second down — fumble exchange; third down — incomplete pass.
The series was a far cry from the Tigers’ four-touchdown first half performance. To keep the momentum going, it was going to take a big play.
And Cleburne County’s Rocky Hayes delivered.
Alexandria’s Owens slipped out into the flat as the ball was lofted in his direction. A running back by trade, but a dangerous receiver, Hayes didn’t let Owens add another touchdown to his nightly total.
With a highlight-reel hit, Hayes said he ignored a possible interception and made full-steam contact almost at the instant the ball touched Owens hands.
“It felt fantastic,” Hayes said of the hit. “There’s nothing better than changing the mood of a game.”
And he did.
Alexandria lost 6 yards on the next play and Cleburne County scored in four plays in the ensuing drive to put the lead back at three scores.
“Big hits like that, that’s what he can do (in college on Saturdays),” Shortt said. “He got some of those opportunities tonight, that we’ve kind of done some things defensively to showcase him for.”
With college recruiters showing interest, offense likely won’t be what Hayes does in college, but he did it well on Friday night.
He had 92 yards in the first half alone, highlighted by a pure-speed 51-yard touchdown run out of the pistol formation to give Cleburne County a 14-0 lead.
The other two touchdowns were supplied from the arm of Matt Norton, who finished 9-for-14 passing for 178 yard and two touchdowns.
While Hayes’ big hit sparked the Tigers’ second half performance, Trey Bolton fueled it.
With Cleburne County feeding its bevy of backs in the first half, the sophomore had only three carries for 4 yards. When the second half rolled around, the coaching staff turned to his fresh legs and he responded with 17-yard carries each of the first two times he touched the ball in the second half.
“I felt like I was a step fresher than everybody else,” said Bolton, who tallied 77 yards in the second half. “We all have a role to play on this team, and that’s mine, and we come together doing it.”
The avalanche of points by Cleburne County in the first half put Alexandria in a hole. They put strong drives together, but by that time — and without the necessary defensive stops — it was almost all for naught.
“They executed well, and that’s what you’ve got to do,” Alexandria coach Frank Tucker said. “We tried to come back on them, But when you’re just swapping touchdowns, that don’t help you.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.