Russellville beats HartsellePublished 11:35pm Friday, October 26, 2012
For the FCT
RUSSELLVILLE — The Russellville defense put the clamps down on Hartselle, forcing five turnovers—including three big ones late—to take a 6-3 upset victory over Class 5A’s defending state champions.
The win marks Russellville’s third straight over defending Class 5A state champions, after a 14-10 win over Athens in 2007 and a 41-7 win over St. Paul’s Episcopal School of Mobile in 2008.
“I’m so proud of our kids” said jubilant Russellville head coach Michael Jackson after the win. “They have worked so hard all year, and they’ve gotten better and better each week.”
With game-time temperatures plummeting into the lower 50’s—and a brisk wind dropping the wind chill factor by several degrees—both teams had trouble hanging on to the football. The difference was Russellville recovered all but one of its fumbles, while Hartselle lost all four of theirs.
“I thought the temperatures dropping so much right before kickoff and the ball being slick really hurt both teams in terms of holding on to the football,” Jackson said.
Hartselle received the opening kickoff, and went three plays and out. A roughing-the-punter penalty gave the Tigers the ball on the Russellville 49, but Golden Tiger linebacker Chase Fretwell picked off Deacon Aldridge’s pass on the next play and returned it to midfield.
Unfortunately, Russellville lost eight yards on its opening drive, the result of a fumble. However, Hartselle returned Russellville’s earlier gift, giving the Golden Tigers a new set of downs on a roughing-the-punter. Russellvile wasn’t able to move the ball, but Posey’s punt was downed at the Hartselle 12.
After going three-and-out, the Tigers’ ensuing punt only went 18 yards, giving Russellville the ball at Hartselle’s 28. A third-down run by Landon Smothers moved the ball to the Tiger 13, but Hartselle’s defense stiffened, forcing a loss of seven yards on the next three plays. Adam Brown attempted a 36-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked.
Hartselle took advantage, using a 12-play drive to drive to the Golden Tiger four-yard line. However, on fourth-and-one, a bad snap caused a fumble, which was recovered by Russellville’s Kaelan Bonds.
Russellville moved the ball out to the 26 on its next possession, but a 23-yard punt gave Hartselle the ball on the Golden Tiger 49.
After an Aldridge run to the 38 on third down moved the chains, Hartselle went to the air on its next play. Aldridge’s pass just eluded the outstretched arms of Jordan Gist, and Nick Beach hauled it in at the Golden Tiger 13. Three plays produced two yards, but on fourth down, Jack Waterman knocked home a 28-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead at halftime.
Russellville received the opening kickoff of the second half, but on second down, Hartselle linebacker Masio Stover knocked the ball loose and recovered on the Russellville 34. Russellville’s defense stood tall, forcing a turnover on downs when Jalen Scott sacked Aldridge on fourth-and-10.
The Golden Tiger offense still struggled to get anything going. After a Posey reception gave Russellville its second first down of the game, the Hartselle defense moved Russellville back on the next three plays.
Hartselle again moved the ball deep into Russellville territory, but a hit by Matthew Davidson on an option play forced a fumble that caused a loss of 15 yards for Hartselle. On fourth-and-13 from the 30, Austin Kitterman knocked away a pass intended for Sidney Steele.
The Golden Tiger offense was unable to take advantage, and punted to Hartselle. The Tigers then mounted another strong offensive drive, with Aldridge going five-for-five on passing for 31 yards, and several runs moving the ball to the Russellville 15. However, Kitterman recovered another Hartselle turnover and returned it to the 30.
After another three-and-out, Hartselle needed one drive to put the game away. However, on second-and-nine, an Aldridge pass to Beach gained four yards before Beach fumbled. Scott recovered on the Russellville 44.
Still, after an illegal block below the waist penalty and a three-yard loss on second-and-26 set up what looked like an impossible third-and-29 from the 25. Instead, Bud Coleman hauled in a Smothers pass over a Hartselle defender and went down at the 46—exactly the 29 yards needed to get the first down. After three plays, the Golden Tigers faced fourth-and-4 from the 40-yard line. Jackson called timeout, and told his charges what the plan was.
“I told our guys to make a play,” said Jackson. “In a game like this, a battle between two excellent football teams, somebody has to make a play. Coach (Shane) Smothers had this play and we had just missed it earlier in the game. We knew it could work.”
Smothers dropped back and found Posey at the 30-yard line. Posey then outraced the Hartselle defenders into the end zone. The extra-point attempt was no good, but with 2:03 left, the Golden Tigers led 6-3.
Hartselle, however, would not go away quietly. A pair of quarterback scrambles by Aldridge gained 24 yards, and short passes moved the ball to the Golden Tiger 19. On third-and-6, Chris Hill hit Aldridge from the blindside, and Scott made his second fumble recovery of the game, giving Russellville the upset win.
“I knew if I got to it, the game was over,” said Scott. “Our offense kept battling, and when they finally scored, we knew it was up to us.”
With the win, there is now a three-way tie for second in 5A, Region 8 among Russellville, Cullman, and Hartselle. Cullman is in the driver’s seat for the second-seed, as a win over 3-6 Center Point combined with a Hartselle loss to 6-2 Austin would give Cullman the two-seed. That would give Russellville the third-seed and a trip to Attalla to take on Etowah. A Hartselle win over Austin would give Hartselle the second-seed and Russellville would be fourth, where they’d take on Fort Payne.
Russellville (7-2, 5-2) will finish off its regular season next Friday when they travel to Fayette to take on the Fayette County Tigers (8-1).