A tough one to swallow
Athens comes from behind to knock off Hartselle 13-10
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
For one half, the Tigers held Athens' powerful defense in check and ran all over the Golden Eagles. Then Rob Ezell got in rhythm.
The Athens junior quarterback, who finished the first half with just 37 yards and saw his team down 10-0 to Hartselle, came to life in the second half. He threw for 143 yards and two touchdowns, a 40-yard pass and a 70-yard pass, as Athens came from behind to defeat the Tigers 13-10 at J.P. Cain Stadium Friday.
"Two big plays," Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said. "Miscommunication on offense, then they hit us down the middle for a big play. Ultimately it falls down to the fact that we couldn't move the ball in the second half. If we move the ball just a little in the second half, then things work out okay. But that isn't what happened."
The Athens defense stepped up in the second half as well, holding Hartselle's leading rusher Montrel Murphy to just 19 yards after the sophomore ran for 161 yards in the first half. The Tigers also failed to gain a first down in the second half.
"They obviously knew we wanted to run the ball (in the second half) because we wanted to run the clock a little bit and shorten the game to keep them off the field," Godsey said. "We just weren't able to do that, and some of that was their doing and some of that was our doing. We let one slip away tonight that we should have won."
The game started with neither team mustering much luck on offense.
Hartselle had the first long drive of the game, marching 54 yards in 10 plays and moving down to the Athens 21-yard line before a fumble by Marquez Jones gave the ball back to the Golden Eagles.
The teams exchanged punts for most of the second quarter before Hartselle finally broke through for a touchdown, using just one play to do so. Murphy took the handoff from quarterback Wes Chenault and broke through several Athens tackles on the way to a 78-yard touchdown run, his longest of the season.
The Tigers added a field goal as time expired in the first half, using all three timeouts in a nine-play drive that culminated with Ray Canafax connecting from 42 yards out.
The second half belonged to the Golden Eagles, however, with Athens cutting the lead to just three points when Ezell found Nick Pickett open over the middle for a 40-yard touchdown with 4:00 left in the third quarter.
Vincent Azzarello gave Athens the lead when he broke loose down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown reception with 7:07 left in the game. Quinn Dunlap kept Athens' lead to just a field goal after blocking his third extra point of the season.
The Golden Eagles' ensuing kickoff landed in the endzone for a touchback, and a bad snap on first down caused Hartselle to lose eight yards and eventually led to a three-and-out. Athens received the ball back with good field position, but the Hartselle defense held strong as Jeff Witt intercepted an Ezell pass in the endzone to give the Tigers the ball back.
With a little over two-and-a-half minutes left to play, Hartselle started its last drive of the game on its own 20-yard line but could not move beyond the Tigers 35. Chenault was injured during the final drive, and freshman Luke Bole came into the game and nearly completed a fourth-and-20 bomb to Dunlap that would have given the Tigers hope. But Dunlap was unable to secure the catch and Athens took over to run out the clock and seal the victory.
With the loss, Hartselle falls to 3-2 in region play and needs a win against Cullman on the road Friday night to stay in the playoff hunt. The Tigers have played four straight home games.
"It might be good (to go back on the road)," Godsey said. "To just change things up, since we've been doing the same old thing, but I don't know. We just can't seem to get two halves together for some reason. I don't know, we played pretty good there in that first half but just couldn't seem to get it together in the second half. We'll keep fighting, I know that."