By A.J. Crisp 3 hrs ago
Joshua senior Hayden Chittum (3) scored two touchdowns as the Owls beat Cleburne, 31-21, on Friday for Joshua’s first win over the Yellow Jackets in 10 years.
Joshua’s defense recorded four game-changing turnovers in the second half as the Owls recorded a 31-21 win over Cleburne on Friday at Yellow Jacket Stadium to conclude the 2017 season.
It was Joshua’s (4-6, 2-5) first win over Cleburne (0-10, 0-7) since 2007.
In a game that saw three ties and four lead changes, Joshua took the lead for good on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by Mitchell Minton to put the Owls up 28-21.
Then Joshua defensive back Stetson Gunter recorded the first of three Owls’ interceptions in the fourth quarter to set up kicker Wes McHugh for a 37-yard field goal and a 31-21 lead with 6 minutes left.
Joshua’s defense would come away with two more interceptions — one by linebacker Josh Clarke and a second from Gunter in the end zone with 1:35 left — to preserve the win.
“We knew going in this year that our defense would be vital to our success in getting takeaways and giving us a short field and obviously stopping the opponent,” Joshua Coach Mike Burt said. “… They battled tremendously in the second half.”
For the first time since 2004, the Jackets finish a season winless at 0-10.
“It’s disappointing,” Cleburne Coach Casey Walraven. “I hate it for these seniors that we couldn’t send them out with a win, and I know the underclassmen wanted to do the same. They left it all out there; they fought all game. It was a story of penalties and turnovers in the second half again — things uncharacteristic of what we do. But they fought and battled, I’m really proud of them.”
Similar to Cleburne’s 41-34 loss to Granbury in week 10, the difference was turnovers. In addition to three interceptions in the fourth quarter, Cleburne lost a fumble at the Joshua 1-yard line to open the third quarter, leaving 6 points on the field. And Cleburne later turned the ball over on downs at its own 41-yard line, which set up a Joshua touchdown three plays later to tie it at 21-21.
“The turnovers killed us,” Walraven said. “Joshua did a good job, that’s a tribute to them and what they did to us. There were some things we didn’t see. Some more experience will help us see those things. It was a step here or there we’re missing.”
For Joshua, it was the Owls’ first four-win season since 2008 and their first season with multiple district wins in 10 years. Even though Joshua still came up shy of its first two goals of having a winning record and making the playoffs, Burt said this season was the type of turnaround the Owls needed.
“It’s huge. It culminates 5 years in trying to change the culture,” Burt said. “I’m so dadgum proud of the seniors — and the juniors who pushed these seniors — who were very instrumental in bringing about a cultural change. … I couldn’t be more elated for these kids. You couldn’t ask for a better ending to a fun story.”
The opening 6 minutes of play indicated a high-scoring shootout between the two rivals as both teams scored on their opening possessions.
Cleburne took the opening kickoff and marched 62 yards in seven plays, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Brett Hodges. The Owls answered with a seven-play, 59-yard scoring drive that culminated with a three-yard scoring run by Hayden Chittum.
But from there, both defenses clamped down the rest of the first half until the Owls scored on a six-yard touchdown run by Justis Chaney — set up by a 37-yard run by Justin Emberton — for a 14-7 lead with 1:09 left until halftime.
Similar to how Joshua quickly responded to Cleburne’s first score, the Jackets answered the Owls’ late touchdown with one of their own. Cleburne junior quarterback Carson Gann completed 4-of-4 passes for 36 yards, the final of those a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ethan Steck with no time remaining as the Jackets tied it, 14-14, going into halftime.
After Cleburne fumbled at the 1-yard line to open the third quarter, the Jackets’ defense came up big as Demarqus McGilveary forced a Joshua fumble inside the 5-yard line, which was recovered by Colton Smith. Four plays later, the Jackets took a 21-14 lead as Isaak Cunningham scored from two yards out.
On Joshua’s ensuing possession, the Owls had a bad snap and Cleburne’s Donte Thompson recovered, setting the Jackets up with a first-and-10 at their own 35 and a chance for a two-score lead. But Cleburne turned the ball over on downs and Joshua tied it three plays later on a six-yard run by Chittum, setting the stage for the Owls’ dominant fourth quarter.
Despite the winless season, Walraven said he’s proud of the players who stuck through some rough and unfortunate times, particularly the senior group.
“I talked to the guys today about sacrifice,” Walraven said. “And these seniors sacrificed for this program. … We could’ve done a few things differently but we had to build the base the right way. The sacrifice these seniors made will not be forgotten. I continue to say we’re building a monster and we’re starting with the feet. The seniors had to sacrifice some to get us to where we’re going in the future.”
Both teams struggled with penalties for much of the night, particularly the first half. Cleburne had 12 penalties for 130 yards while Joshua was flagged 13 times for 146 yards, not including several more penalties that were declined.
Emberton led Joshua with 75 rushing yards on 10 carries while Chittum added 58 rushing yards, 47 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Joshua senior quarterback Josh Kelso was 13-of-18 passing for 157 yards.
Thrust into the starting quarterback role due to injury, Gann wrapped up a solid junior season for Cleburne with 166 passing yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions to go along with 66 rushing yards. Hodges added 51 rushing yards and a score on 15 carries.