Starting out strong
All four TDs come via the run as Tigers beat Austin 28-22
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
DECATUR – The Tigers got to see both sides of their youth – inexperience and energy – in their game against Austin Friday.
The inexperience was in the first quarter when Hartselle let Austin take a 9-0 lead. The energy was in the rest of the game, with sophomore running back Montrel Murphy and junior quarterback Wes Chenault each scoring two rushing touchdowns to help the Tigers (1-0) to a 28-22 victory over the Black Bears (0-1).
Murphy finished the night with 250 yards in his debut as a starter for the Tigers. The sophomore had a rough night early on, with two fumbles in the first half, but Tigers coach Bob Godsey maintained his confidence in his young back's ability.
"(Murphy) runs hard," Godsey said. "He did have a couple turnovers, but once again this is his first time in the spotlight. You've just got to be patient and work through those rough spots.
"He could have gotten a little apprehensive and afraid to get it up in there because he was going to fumble or something, but he wouldn't do it. He never questioned himself and he never questioned those big guys up front."
Murphy's second touchdown of the day, a nine-yard scamper, came with 1:07 left in the third quarter and gave Hartselle a 28-9 lead. But the Black Bears would not quit, as Cortez Shackleford scored on a 75-yard touchdown run immediately after Hartselle's ensuing kickoff – Quinn Dunlap blocked the extra point.
The Black Bears scored again with 1:41 left in the game, as quarterback Bailey Hardwick connected with Alf Edwards for an 11-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-22. Austin attempted an onside kick, but Dunlap was there to fall on the loose ball and allow the Tigers to run out the clock for their first victory of the season.
Defensively, the Tigers kept Austin's rushing attack in check all game, other than Shackleford's big run. Hartselle was able to make the Black Bears one-dimensional, forcing Hardwick to throw often. The senior finished the game 17-for-30 with 175 yards and two passing touchdowns.
"I think every good football team has got to be able to run it, and you've got to be able to stop the run," Godsey said. "Coach Peck who runs our defense certainly believes that and he did an outstanding job. That was our plan coming in, we wanted to dominate the line of scrimmage and make them throw the ball.
"That is what they do the best, but we wanted to make them one-dimensional and we wanted to chew up yardage as well running the football, because that's what we do best. We were still able to take our shots with the passing game, and I thought Wes did a outstanding job there."
Austin looked impressive in the opening drive of the game, starting with a 48-yard kickoff return by Cordarryl Madry. Six plays later, Hardwick found Cameron Gregg open in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown.
The Black Bears scored again with 3:58 left in the first quarter, as Chenault was sacked in the end zone for a safety. But Hartselle's defense tightened, holding the Black Bears to three-and-out after the free kick, and the Tigers responded in a big way after getting the ball back.
Chenault faked a pitch to Murphy and kept the ball, racing 82 yards for the touchdown.
Chenault scored on another quarterback keeper from one yard out to give Hartselle a 14-9 lead with 2:15 left in the second half. That short run was set up by a 67-yard pass to Tyler Young two plays earlier.
The Hartselle quarterback finished the game 4-for-11 passing, but rushed for 138 yards on just five carries.
Murphy took over in the second half, scoring on runs of 10 and nine yards. Perhaps more importantly, though, he helped Hartselle's offense control the clock throughout the second half. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Tigers' final scoring drive, a 14-play drive that used up over seven minutes of game time.
Godsey gave credit to his offensive and defensive lines for winning the battles in the trenches that allowed the Tigers to both control their own rushing attack and stop Austin's run.
"We feel like that's a strength of our team, one of our strengths is our offensive line," he said. "We've got three starters back up there, and two guys who are really coming on. Dusty Schofield at center and Trent Fincher at guard and Brad Eubanks at tackle, those are our three returners who are sort of leading the way, and I can't say enough about them tonight."
Hartselle opens Region 8 play on the road Friday against Curry (1-0), with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. at Hudson Stadium in Jasper.