Say it isn't so!
Hartselle's run at the Class 5A title stopped by Russellville, 34-14
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
RUSSELLVILLE – How important is ball control against a team like Russellville?
Just ask Hartselle head coach Mike Smith.
"Turnovers were the difference in the game," Smith said after Russellville beat his Hartselle Tigers 34-14 Friday night. "(Fumbles) cost us 14 points, and that was the difference, really."
Smith had very little to say following the loss, but Russellville head coach Perry Swindall was all smiles.
"It's a special thing for our town and our community to have a chance to go to Birmingham and represent Russellville football," Swindall said.
Turnovers proved to be the story for Hartselle, as a fumble late in the first half led to Russellville's second touchdown and the Golden Tigers having a 14-7 advantage.
In the third quarter, after Hartselle forced a Russellville fumble, the Tigers drove to the eight-yard line before coughing up the football.
After the opening kickoff, though, it appeared Hartselle had all the momentum it needed to pull off an upset.
Chris Wiley took the opening kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown no more than 15 seconds into the game. Hajialilu added the extra point for an early 7-0 lead.
But, Russellville would bounce back with an eight-play, 60-yard drive, culminating with Jake Tompkins' 19-yard touchdown strike to Justin Williams off of play-action.
The score remained at 7-7 until a fumble on a punt return. Justin Youngblood settled under the punt but could not get the handle. Ty Hollingsworth scooped up the fumble and returned it to the eight-yard line. Four plays later, Tompkins found the endzone on the ground.
Hartselle evened the score at 14-all with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter. Isiah Herring found the endzone from one yard out. Normally when the Tigers are close to the endzone they will look to Jeremy Orr to punch it in. However, Orr went down earlier on the drive with a severely sprained ankle. He did not return, though he was the leading ground gainer for Hartselle, rushing nine times for 58 yards.
From that point, Russellville was able to dominate Hartselle's defense for three more scores.
Russellville was still going to the air as time was running out. Tompkins was one pass shy from Brodie Croyle's state record of 44 touchdown passes in a single season, and Swindall said he thought he owed Tompkins a shot at tying the record.
"Have you ever held a state record?," he asked a group of reporters. "I have a quarterback that has a chance to tie a state record, and I think he is deserving of that. They can say that's a bad thing or it's cheap or whatever they say. We could have handed the ball off and done just as good."
"Records are fine and dandy," Smith said. "But, we're supposed to be here to teach them class."
See RECORD, B-3