— By GREG WEBB
The Weatherford Kangaroos took a bigger bite of success on Friday than they had enjoyed in the previous week, but well before the dessert course could be served, the feast turned to near famine for the Roos.
After scoring the first two touchdowns of the game with workmanlike drives, a special teams gaff prompted a momentum shift WHS could not stem, as they fell to the Cleburne Yellowjackets, 54-35.
“The kids had a very good first quarter and I thought their effort was great,” said Weatherford head coach Weldon Nelms. “Then we hit sort of a lull in the second quarter, where we had [Cleburne] stopped, but gave up some big plays.”
After a three-and-out series from the Roo defense on Cleburne’s first possession, the offense went to work, driving 78 yards in nine plays, with Weatherford quarterback Grant Werts scoring on a 1-yard plunge.
Another stop by the Weatherford defenders yielded even better field position after the Cleburne punt, resulting in an efficient, five-play series. The culminating play was a crowd-pleasing circus catch off the arm of Werts to a tightly-covered Chris Whitling. After the ball was tipped virtually straight up into the air at the goal line,
Whitling focused his attention, and eventually both hands, on the ball and grabbed the rebound for the touchdown.
On the ensuing kick, the momentum Weatherford had established took a significant hit when Cleburne’s Reggie Robinson took the ball to the house with an 89-yard kick-off return.
Although the Roos again answered on their next drive, set up by a nice return from return man Dalton Clubb, the ‘Jackets were looking resurgent.
“We really had things completely going our way until the kickoff return they ran back,” Nelms said, “That kind of changed “old Mo” back in their direction.
“And not to take anything away from Cleburne, they have some great athletes and made some good plays in spite of our efforts.”
Spanning from the beginning of the second quarter through the third period, Cleburne scored on five of its next six possessions, with big plays turning into the order of its offense. The keynote address was a 68-yard scoring run from the Jackets’ running back Darrion McCullough.
Adding to Weatherford’s momentum change was the loss of full-time services from starting quarterback Werts.
“Grant turned his ankle and was almost immobile, which is a killer because you have to be able to move back there,” Nelms said. “Luckily, it is a low-ankle sprain, so we’ll begin the rehab on him right away and hope to get him back into shape quickly.”
Werts shared time with sophomore quarterback Bryce Burks, who was thrown into the mix in Weatherford’s second drive, when Werts was shaken up temporarily from a sideline hit. Noticeably hobbling for the balance of the night after turning the ankle, Werts took snaps in nearly every series in the second half.
Burks was able to get his first taste of scoring before the game was over, as he found wideout Fred Brownlee for a 26-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the contest.
Combined, the Roo quarterbacks were 22 for 31 in completions (70.9 percent) for 225 yards — and without a pick.
The Weatherford run game is yet below levels to compliment the passing game, as the Roos mustered just 69 yards on the ground. Some of the low number can be attributed to the second half deficit, which took hold toward the middle of the third quarter.
Though disappointed that the fortunes of the match turned so dramatically in the second half, Nelms saw positive results from an offense that struggled so much just a week before.
“We felt after last week that [the coaching staff] may have been getting a bit ahead of ourselves,” Nelms said. “We condensed the offense to make things a little easier for the offense, and I think they responded very well.
“We just had a hard time keeping pressure on their defense, especially after Grant got hobbled up.”
The Roo defense, starting the night with two consecutive three-and-out series, succumbed to a few injuries and fatigue.
“Our defense did a great job in the early go,” Nelms said, “and I think we got a little worn down and just got tired. We have some injuries over on that side of the ball that kills us.
“We also have more of our younger kids on the defensive side and unfortunately that shows up when you get into the situations we were in.”
Despite a second week where fortunes went well early and then went south, Nelms is still seeing the maturing of the team as they reach for the next level of accomplishment.
“I think we have grown up a lot since last week’s game,” he said. “We came into that game with a lot of excitement and expectations, and I really do think we came out a little nervous and a little tight.
“But there’s a lot of fight in these kids and they are doing what we ask of them. And hey, we’ll get back to the drawing board again tomorrow and continue to get better.”
Cleburne 54, Weatherford 35
CHS 7 14 19 14 — 54
WHS 21 0 7 7 — 35
WHS - Grant Werts 1 run (Trey Rich kick)
WHS - Chris Whitling 20 pass from Werts (Rich kick)
CHS - Reggie Robinson II 89-yard kick- off return (Diego Roa kick)
WHS - Whitling 29 pass from Werts
CHS - Kameron Pickett 7 pass from
Brian Baca (Roa kick)
CHS - Johnny Juarez 33 pass from
Baca (Roa kick)
CHS - Darion McCullough 68 run
CHS - Robinson 23 pass from Baca
WHS - Jeuqwan Brownlee 28 run
CHS - McCullough 1 run (run failed)
CHS - McCullough 39 run
CHS - Pickett 39 pass from Baca
WHS - Fred Brownlee 26 pass from
Bryce Burks (Rich kick)
Team Stats: CHS WHS
First downs 19 17
Total Yards 491 294
Rushes-yards 30-218 32-69
Passing yards 273 225
Comp-att-int 15-25-0 22-31-0
Punts-average 4-32.1 6-40.3
Fumbles-lost 2-0 2-1
Penalties 10-95 5-53
Rushing: CHS - Darion McCullough 11-149, Brian Baca 8-28, Chris Flores 5-21; WHS - Jeuqwan Brownlee 12-73, Bryce Burks 5-17.
Passing: CHS - Baca 15-25-0, 273. WHS - Werts 14-20-0, 149, Burks 8-11-0, 76.
Receiving — CHS: Kameron Pickett 10-155, Richardson 2-28, Juarez 1-33, Reggie Robinson II 2-57; WHS - Whitling 7-75, Fred Brownlee 6-66, Chase Warren 2-16, Logan Guest 4-50.