Cleburne falls in season opener against Houston Heights

Aug. 26—WACO — The Cleburne Yellow Jackets opened the 2023 season in Waco against Houston Heights on a night with temperatures near 110 degrees.

Despite the toasty conditions on the field at Waco Midway High School, the Yellow Jacket defense held its own against a talented Houston Heights team, who was limited to one touchdown in each quarter.

"The defense played absolutely phenomenal all night long last night. They were flying around to the football, getting to where they were supposed to be and doing their job each and every play. Couldn't be more proud of those guys," Cleburne head coach Jim Woodard said. "We worked hard on putting a good game plan together for those kids, and they went out and executed it."

The Yellow Jackets totaled 244 yards as a team, and strung together numerous first downs and big plays, but ultimately could not finish off any scoring drives as Cleburne fell 28-0 on Friday night.

"Offensive football is the last piece of the puzzle that needs to come together for us," Woodard said. "Just getting the five guys up front to understand how to cover plays off of each other will be key. Last night, we would make a couple of big plays and get a first down or two, and then we would have a critical mistake we can't have, whether it was a holding penalty or taking a sack at the wrong time. Then, we would be working off a second- or third-and-long situation, where their (Heights) defense was able to pin their ears back and get after us. Right now, it will be critical to get those guys to play together to help eliminate those mistakes."

Cleburne trailed 14-0 at the break, but Heights scored on its opening drive of the third quarter to increase its advantage to 21-0. The Bulldogs added another score for insurance in the fourth quarter for the final margin.

The hard-working defense amassed 45 total tackles throughout the game with senior Jaiden Reed and sophomores Cordae Simmons and Jayden Navarrete tallying five take downs apiece. Senior Kanya Brown also contributed with two tackles and a forced fumble while twin senior linebackers Eric and Marcus Juarez added four tackles each. Junior defenders Miguel Cardenas and Jadaan Rodriguez also chipped in with four tackles apiece for Cleburne.

Sophomore quarterback Luke Stewart led the offense by completing nine of his 19 pass attempts for 99 yards with one interception. Senior running back Jaygen Wells led the team in the backfield with 12 carries for 35 yards while sophomore receivers C.J. Kensley (four receptions, 67 yards) and Malachi Cunningham (four receptions, 53 yards) led the charge outside the numbers.

With another tough battle ahead for Cleburne, Woodard is keeping his message consistent with the team, and he is confident that the same effort will be there each Friday. In addition to that, he is eager to build off of what they did well against the Bulldogs.

"That was just one opportunity for us. The schedule isn't going to get any easier, but we are just going to keep getting better and better," Woodard said. "We just have to keep showing up every day, put the work in and prepare like we know how to. We are going to show up each Friday night and play our hearts out."

Cleburne (0-1) will take the field again at 7 p.m. Friday at Midlothian Heritage, who is coming off a 31-28 win over Stephenville.