Special teams, special win
JD Glenn scores late TD to tie game, Canafax's kick wins it
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
Offense may sell tickets, but defense and special teams will win playoff games.
A big special teams play set up a defensive touchdown, which powered the Hartselle Tigers to a 20-19 comeback win over the Etowah Blue Devils in a first-round state playoff game.
The Tigers trailed 19-13 with four minutes to play when Daniel Crowe downed a Justin Youngblood punt at the Etowah one-yard line. On the game's next play, nose guard Joe McClanahan tackled Blue Devil quarterback Joe Fishback as he was attempting to hand off. The ball never reached running back Randy Dupree and landed two yards deep in the Etowah end zone. Hartselle's JD Glenn covered the fumble and tying the score. Ray Canafax added the point-after for the one-point win.
"It's a typical playoff game," winning coach Bob Godsey said.
"It was a defensive struggle. We just hung in there. We talked all week about making one more play than they make. It's what we did, we got the one big play at the end. This was such a great game, you hate to see either team lose this one."
The Tigers' offense took the opening kickoff and scored to take an early 7-0 lead.
The 67-yard Hartselle drive took 11 plays. The march was capped by a nine-yard
scoring run by Justin Youngblood. Youngblood ran six times for 44 yards on the march, while Seth Watson connected with Joe Walter Norris twice for 17 yards. Canafax's point-after gave the Tigers a seven-point lead with 6:47 remaining in the first quarter.
Etowah answered in three plays when tailback JereMichael Crumpler scored on a 55-yard gallop around the left side of the Tiger defense.
The point-after knotted the score at seven.
The Tigers offense responded by driving to the Blue Devil 24, before the drive stalled due to a penalty.
Neither team threatened again until late in the half, when Jay Rushen recovered a Blue Devil fumble on a punt return at the Etowah 22-yard line.
Four plays later, Canafax split the uprights from 43 yards to give Hartselle a 10-7 lead at the intermission.
Etowah scored on the opening drive of the second half when Crumpler burned the Tiger defense again on a 50-yard run for score. The special teams made the second big play of the game when Daniel Crowe blocked the Blue Devil attempt for point-after, leaving the score at 13-10.
Hartselle answered on a 12-play 83-yard drive, ending when Canafax nailed a 22-yard field goal to tie the score at 13 with three minutes to play in the third quarter. Watson and Norris team up on three pass completions for 54 yards to keep the drive moving.
The Blue Devils then drove 47 yards in eight plays to the Hartselle 24-yard line, but then Tiger safety Chris Wiley picked off an errant pass to end the threat.
In the final quarter, Hartselle held Etowah on downs at the Tiger 17-yard line when McClanahan stopped Fishback for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-two.
Two plays later, however, a Seth Watson pass was picked off by Etowah's Joe'el Milo and returned 37 yards for a score.
The Blue Devils were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play, forcing the point-after to be attempted from the 18-yard line. The penalty proved important when the kick fell just short of the crossbar and leaving the lead at 19-13 with 5:32 left to play.
The Tigers drove to the Etowah 49-yard line on the next series, but faced with fourth-and-four, Godsey decided to punt.
The decision would prove to be the correct one when Crowe recovered it setting up the game-winning play.
"I never thought we should go for it," Godsey said.
"We still had over four minutes left and our defense was playing well.
"We wanted to play field position. Anyway, I think it turned out pretty good."
The Tigers improved to 9-2, while the Blue Devils end their season at 8-3.
Hartselle travels to Fairfield (10-1) on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. in the second round of the playoffs.
Etowah 7 0 6 6 – 19
Hartselle 7 3 3 7 – 20
Rushing – Justin Youngblood 27-95, Seth Watson 6-13, Gary Orr 1-2
Passing – Watson 11-19-1-134 yards
Receiving – Joe Walter Norris 5-85, Chris Wiley 4-43, Youngblood 1-4, Justin Billings 1-2