Score doesn't tell whole story
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
ATHENS — To the untrained eye, looking at the scoreboard following Hartselle’s 35-31 win over Athens might suggest that the Tigers played poorly on defense.
But that was not the case at all. If anything, Hartselle’s defensive pressure was a key factor in disrupting Athens’ passing game and allowing the Tigers to dictate what the Golden Eagles were able to do on offense. If it wasn’t for several athletic plays made by Athens’ Jacquez Pride (two receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, five catches for 184 yards), Hartselle would have completely shut down the Athens attack.
It was rare that Athens quarterback Rob Ezell had more than a few seconds to throw the ball. The quarterback was sacked three times and hurried numerous times more, and other than Pride’s five catches, completed just five other passes for 48 yards.
Even when Athens completed a big play, Hartselle’s defense was just inches away from breaking it up. On a long reception by Pride in the second quarter, Hartselle cornerback Quinn Dunlap got a hand on the ball but Pride stayed with the tip to make the catch. In Athens’ first touchdown of the second half, Ezell found Pride for a score, but there were three Hartselle defenders in the vicinity of the ball.
But the biggest plays made by the defense were arguably in the fourth quarter, where Hartselle’s defense turned an Athens first-and-10 into a second-and-22 and a later second-and-10 into third-and-20. Dunlap, who just missed out on an interception when he tipped the ball to Pride, got his retribution when he knocked away Ezell’s desperation fourth-and-20 pass to give the Tigers the ball on the Athens 8 late in the quarter. Three plays later, Marquez Jones ran it in for a score and Hartselle stretched its lead to 35-24.
It was just another example of how you can’t look at the score to get the whole story.
Here’s this week’s picks:
J.O. Johnson Jaguars (6-1, 4-1) at Hartselle Tigers (6-1, 4-1): For the second straight week, Hartselle faces an opponent with just one loss in a game that has serious playoff seeding implications. If the Tigers can take this one, they will all but wrap up home field in the first round as the No. 2 seed in Region 8. Ditto for the Jaguars. Both teams have played Decatur, Brewer, Russellville and Muscle Shoals. Taking those four teams out, Johnson’s remaining three opponents are a combined 3-18 while Hartselle’s are 12-9. Hartselle already has three wins over opponents who were ranked coming into the game, and with a wild homecoming crowd on its side at J.P. Cain, Johnson will be the fourth…Tigers 35, Jaguars 24.
Athens Golden Eagles (5-2, 3-2) at Brewer Patriots (2-5, 1-4): The Golden Eagles should come into this game quite unhappy with their loss to Hartselle last week. Brewer will get some scores through its passing game, but will have trouble stopping Athens’ own aerial attack…Golden Eagles 42, Patriots 17.
Good Hope Raiders (6-1, 4-1) at Danville Hawks (0-7, 0-5): The Hawks are still looking for their first win of the season, but face an uphill battle against a Good Hope team that currently leads the Region 7 standings and has outscored its opponents 206-101…Raiders 35, Hawks 13.
Falkville Blue Devils (4-3, 3-2) at Vincent Yellow Jackets (4-3, 4-1): The Class 2A, Region 5 standings are bizarre. Other than 0-5 Victory Christian, every team is still in playoff contention. Falkville can really help its chances by knocking off a Vincent team living on borrowed time; the Yellow Jackets have been outscored 172-110 by their opponents so far…Blue Devils 24, Yellow Jackets 21.
Priceville Bulldogs (4-3, 2-3) at Ardmore Tigers (5-2, 3-2): While a loss to Ardmore would not eliminate Priceville from playoff contention, it would make things quite difficult. Ardmore is one of the most-improved teams in the region, currently tied for second after finishing 2005 with zero wins. Playing at home, they’ll be able to fight off a feisty Bulldogs team…Tigers 31, Bulldogs 28.
Alabama Crimson Tide (5-2, 2-2 in SEC) at Tennessee Volunteers (5-1, 1-1): Once again, the Crimson Tide was able to do just enough to beat an SEC opponent. “Just enough” might be fine against the likes of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, but if the Tide brings that kind of effort against Tennessee, they will lose big. Having Ken Darby back at full strength helps, but quarterback Erik Ainge and the rest of the Vol offense is too balanced to lose this one…Volunteers 31, Crimson Tide 17.
Tulane Green Wave (2-4) at Auburn Tigers (6-1): I’ve been wrong on Auburn two weeks in a row now. I might be going out on a limb here, but I think I break that streak this week…Tigers 45, Green Wave 10.
UCLA Bruins (4-2) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-1): This game worries me. UCLA has the kind of balanced attack that could give the Irish defense fits, and the Bruins’ defense is pretty stout itself. I think Notre Dame pulls it out, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this thing remain in doubt into the fourth quarter…Fighting Irish 38, Bruins 28.