Shoals' Muscle not so strong
Tigers shut down Muscle Shoals; take regional win
A sign in Hartselle's locker room reads "The most physical team wins."
It must be true – just ask Muscle Shoals.
The Tigers' used a suffocating defense and a potent ground attack to beat Muscle Shoals 42-7 Friday night in a Class 5A, Region 8 battle.
"The defense played hard," head coach Mike Smith said. "They (the defense) are the most consistent part of the team."
Consistent must lead to persistent. And persistent must lead to flat-out speed.
Hartselle's defense held Muscle Shoals to negative-26 yards in the first half. Muscle Shoals ran backward the entire half, rushing for negative-33 yards.
Hartselle (2-2, 2-1 Class 5A, Region 8) had little trouble with moving the ball.
Jeremy Orr quickly put the Tigers on the board with a five-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. Chris Wiley set up the score with a 65-yard opening-kickoff return.
Hartselle held on to a slim 7-0 lead but was never in danger of allowing the Trojans near the endzone.
Nikita Stover must have wanted to leave little doubt.
Stover, a junior wide receiver, took a reverse handoff 48 yards for a touchdown and gave the Tigers what proved to be an insurmountable lead. Later in the contest, Stover took another reverse handoff 69 yards for a touchdown. For the game, Stover had two rushes for 117 yards and two catches for 42 yards.
"He's capable of doing that every night," Smith said. "Sometimes we just have to make sure to get his hands on the ball."
Perhaps Stover was reduced to running the ball more than catching because of the inclement weather.
"I went into the game wanting to pass," Smith said. "But, the conditions were not conducive for that."
Heavy rains fell for much of the game; still, Hartselle managed 420 total yards. Muscle Shoals managed just 83 yards after being held to negative-25 yards rushing.
Again, Smith knew he had to run the ball.
Enter Isiah Herring.
Herring put the Tigers up by three touchdowns with less than three minutes remaining until halftime after a 35-yard scamper to paydirt. Herring rushed 11 times for 82 yards in the contest.
Orr scored his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard plunge, capping a nine-play, 45-yard drive early in the second half.
After Stover ran in for his second touchdown, Smith opted to put his second-team defense in the game.
Had he not, the Trojans may still be looking for a first down.
Muscle Shoals' only touchdown came against the second-team defense. Quarterback Blake Thomason hooked up with Laquan Burt for 19 yards and a score with 1:06 remaining in the third quarter. After the extra point Hartselle still held a comfortable 35-7 lead.
Back-up running back Justin Youngblood added his second touchdown of the season late in the fourth quarter. His 40-yard scamper and Patrick Whatley's extra point made the final score 42-7.
The road can only get tougher, though. Friday night, the Decatur Red Raiders travel to take on the Tigers at J.P. Cain Stadium.
See HARTSELLE, B4