Hartselle hammers Athens
Tigers clinch playoff spot with 28-7 win
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
As the old clich/ goes, the tone was set early.
Hartselle's defense stiffened when it had to, and the offense came up with big plays all night, as the Tigers beat Athens 28-7 Friday night to secure a playoff spot in Class 5A, Region 8.
"This could've very well been our most complete game," head coach Bob Godsey said. "We had a ton of big plays from a lot of different people, and that's what a team is all about."
Perhaps a lot of different people made a "ton of big plays," but it could be argued no one played bigger than sophomore Joe McClanahan.
McClanahan, a 5-10 nose guard, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble he returned for a touchdown.
On his fumble return for a touchdown, McClanahan stripped quarterback Jonathan Johnson and went 20 yards for paydirt and the final score of the game.
"I hit the quarterback and saw his arm go back," McClanahan said. "I just stripped the ball and went for the touchdown."
Godsey was equally impressed with McClanahan.
"Joe just keeps getting better," he said. "We're awfully proud of him. He's a guy that flourishes with success and gets more confidence as he goes."
McClanahan led the defense to a three and out on Athens' first possession, and Youngblood set the tone early on Hartselle's first play.
Youngblood, who rushed for 93 yards on 12 carries, went 53 yards up the middle and put the Tigers on the two-yard line. Isiah Herring cleaned up, getting into the endzone for the second straight week.
Another big play on Hartselle's second possession set up another score, courtesy of Nikita Stover.
On first and 10 from the 28-yard line, quarterback Seth Watson, who went 5 for 14 for 105 yards, hit a leaping Stover across the middle for 45 yards. Five plays later, Youngblood ran in from the six-yard line, as the Tigers found themselves up 14-0 with 4:27 remaining in the first quarter.
McClanahan's interception early in the second quarter thwarted an Athens' drive and set up a touchdown.
Watson again hit Stover, who caught 4 passes for 94 yards, from 20 yards out to cap a six play, 51-yard drive.
Jeremie Slaughter scored Athens' only touchdown of the night later in the half. His 59-yard run with 1:44 showing on the clock was the only mistake made by the Tigers' defense all night.
The final rushing numbers on Friday night's game could be misleading, as the Golden Eagles out-gained Hartselle. But when a big play was needed, Hartselle came up with a stop.
Of the five fourth down attempts by Athens, Hartselle stopped four of them.
"How many game have we been in this year where the other team would have third and long and fourth down, and we not be able to stop them?," Godsey said. "(Friday) night, we were able to finish."
Chris Borden got in on several tackles, and he said it was good to lock up a playoff spot.
"It's exciting," he said. "We had close games with other teams and couldn't get the win. But (Friday) night, we were able to pull it out."
Hartselle travels to Cullman Friday night to take on the Bearcats. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.