Tigers lose lead, miss tying field goal
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
FAIRFIELD – Less than one second remained in the game. Hartselle sophomore place-kicker Ray Canafax planted his left foot and swung his right leg in an attempt to force overtime with a career-long 45-yard field goal. The ball was on-line straight between the uprights, but it fell one yard short of the crossbar, and the Tigers season ended at the hands of Fairfield, 20-17, in the second round of the 5A state football playoffs.
The possibility of overtime seemed unlikely just minutes before, as Hartselle held a 17-0 lead with just under seven minutes to play.
"Last week we made one more play than Etowah and this week Fairfield made one more play than us," Hartselle head coach Bob Godsey said. "They're a great team, it's why they've won 11 out of 12 games. We talked at halftime about them making a run in the second half and it was just enough of a run to win."
After forcing a three-and-out on the game's opening series, Hartselle opened the scoring on an 11-play 62-yard drive. Seth Watson capped the drive with a seven-yard run. Watson's passing keyed the drive as he completed three-of-three attempts for 28 yards to Joe Walter Norris. Ray Canafax was true on the point-after.
After each team exchanged punts for the next quarter-and-a-half, the Tigers took a 10-point lead with just 17 seconds to go until halftime following a six-play 30-yard drive to the Fairfield 18-yard line. Canafax ended the drive with a 35-yard field goal.
Hartselle increased the lead to 17 early in the third period when Jeff Witt returned an
interception 27 yards for a score. Canafax added the point-after.
The Tigers appeared to be headed to the state quarterfinals as the defense was shutting down the Fairfield offense. Hartselle yielded only 74 yards of offense on 40 plays midway through the final period.
With 6:51 left on the clock, the game-changing play happened when Seth Watson and Justin Youngblood mishandled the ball on a handoff and Fairfield linebacker Elliotte Jackson scooped up the loose ball and returned it 45 yards to pay dirt. Corey Kyle added the point-after and the lead was down to 10, 17-7.
Fairfield then got possession of the ball again when Hartselle was unable to handle an on-side kickoff. The home team then cut the lead to three with a seven-play 46-yard drive ending when quarterback Jeremiah Jones scored from the nine with four minutes left to play.
After forcing a three-and-out punt by the Tigers, Fairfield regained the ball at their 35-yard line with 2:08 to play.
The home team took the lead driving 65 yards in eight plays. Jones dove in the end zone from the one with only 17 seconds left to play. The point-after was blocked and Fairfield led 20-17.
Hartselle took over at their 20-yard line following a touchback. Watson moved the club in field goal range with two long passes, the first a 27-yard strike to Chris Watson and the second a 28-yard catch and run by Korbyn Kelley. Hartselle called time-out as Kelley was tackled, but the majority of the crowd didn't see the call and rushed the field. After clearing the field, Canafax attempted the game tying kick.
Hartselle ended the season with a 9-3 record, while Fairfield moves on with an 11-1 record. All three Tiger losses this season came at the hands of team ranked in the state's Top Ten.
"This was a tough one," Godsey said. "But, the sun will come up tomorrow and the Hartselle Tigers will live to fight another day."