Hartselle ready for 'new season' after downing Red Devils
Lindsay Vaught, Sports Correspondent
The final game of the regular season turned into an offensive shootout as Hartselle held off a determined Lawrence County team 42-37 last Friday night at J. P. Cain Stadium. The Tigers had already clinched a playoff berth. Afterward, Coach Bob Godsey declared his team primed and ready for the state playoffs that start this week on the road against Gardendale.
"Our goal was to come in here and get a win and move on," Godsey said. "We had some people sick this week that were in and out of practice. We held out J.D. Glenn to try to get him well. We had some other guys that we tried to hold out as much as we could, but I expect us to be at full strength next week."
Big plays helped the Tigers build a big lead early but Moulton's sophomore quarterback Jeremy Helms (6 feet 3 inches tall, 200 pounds) led a fourth quarter comeback that saw the Devils score 22 unanswered points. Not until Hartselle's Chris Borden recovered an on-side kick with 34 seconds left was the victory secured.
Nikita Stover scored the first of his three touchdowns on Hartselle's first play from scrimmage, a 76-yard bomb from Seth Watson. Patrick Whatley kicked the first of six extra points and the Tigers had a 7-0 lead. On Hartselle's next possession, the Tigers drove 83 yards on 11 plays with Justin Youngblood scoring on a 20 yard run.
Early in the second quarter Lawrence County put together a 75-yard drive powered by the passing of Helms and a few tough runs by Jason Smith. Helms and his favorite receiver, eighth grader Will Holley, hooked up for a 17-yard completion into Tiger territory. On fourth-and-one from the one, Helms ran in for the score to make it 14-7.
But it wouldn't stay that way for long.
On the ensuing kickoff Nikita Stover gathered in the ball at the 20-yard line, cut left, found a lane and streaked 80 yards for the touchdown. Stover would display his big-play ability later in the second quarter when he made a leaping catch to beat double coverage and haul in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Seth Watson.
Helms, who would throw 54 passes in the game, drove the Devils deep in Hartselle territory and found Corey Britton for a touchdown to close the gap. A botched extra point attempt resulted in Jason Smith running it in for a 2-point conversion.
On the Red Devils' next possession, Helms was intercepted by Ben Peck who returned the ball to the Lawrence County 12-yard line. Two plays later Justin Youngblood scooted 8 yards to give the Tigers a 35-15 halftime lead.
Hartselle needed just three plays to score on the opening drive in the second half. Isaiah Herring got the drive going with a 30-yard run. Herring finished with 105 yards on nine carries. Justin Youngblood went the final 23 yards for the touchdown and Hartselle had a comfortable 42-15 lead. But the Tigers would not score another point and soon brought in the reserves including Cline Thompson at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Helms was passing on every play and began piling up the yardage. The Tigers defense led by Michael Scott held Moulton twice on downs in the third quarter, but the time of possession difference took a toll. Moulton held the ball 30:46 in the game compared to Hartselle's 17:14.
Punter Justin Youngblood pinned the Red Devils deep on punts of 41 and 42 yards in the fourth quarter but Helms, who finished with 363 yards passing, kept firing. After a drive to the Hartselle 5-yard line he sprinted for a score. After a successful on-side kick Moulton was knocking on the door again when Jason Smith ran five yards for a touchdown. After another successful on-side kick Jason Smith tore through a wilted Tiger defense from four yards out. He also ran in a two-point conversion to make it a six-point game.
But the Devils were out of bullets. They were also out of time. Their third on-side kick was recovered by Chris Borden and Hartselle ran out the clock.
Coach Godsey knew Helms would challenge his pass defense.
"We tried every way to slow down Helms but he's a good player, you got to give them a lot of credit. I would have liked to played better pass defense," Godsey said.
Godsey doesn't think Moulton exposed a weakness in Hartselle's ability to recover on-side kicks, even though the Red Devils recovered two of three they attempted.
"We work on it a lot. We've worked on it more than any team I've coached," Godsey said.
In Gardendale the Tigers will face a team that went undefeated in region play at 7-0. Their only losses came to 6A teams and they finished 7-3.
"I know they're a good team. Big and athletic defensively," Godsey said. "On offense they are more of a running team. They like to hold the ball, play good defense, and they don't give up many points at all. We'll throw everything we've got against them, that's what you do in the playoffs. It's a whole new season now."
Tiger fans remember all too well the last time Hartselle played Gardendale here two years ago and upset region champ Hartselle 45-14.
"It's been mentioned," said Godsey of the revenge factor.
Hartselle finishes the regular season at 6-4 and enters the playoffs as the fourth place qualifier in Region 8, Class 5A.