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Hartselle beats Cullman for region title

CULLMAN – No. 2 Hartselle (9-0, 7-0) forced six Cullman turnovers and used a late touchdown drive to beat the Bearcats on the road and win the Class 5A, Region 6 championship Friday night.

With the game tied at 13 in the second half, Cullman (7-2, 6-1) appeared like it would take its first lead of the game a couple of times, whether it was on a long drive or taking advantage of a Hartselle offensive miscue.

However, the Tiger defense made plays time and time again to either stop Cullman on fourth down or even force a turnover of its own.

Tyler Phillips gets a congratulatory hug from an assistant coach after the game. Phillips caught the final interception that sealed the win. | Brent Maze

“When you think these guys can’t play any harder, they show you that they can,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said. “That’s just what we do. We made the plays that we needed to win this game.”

The win was also special for the Hartselle football program. It signified the team’s fourth consecutive region title, including winning two of those games on the road to clinch the region title.

“This goes a lot deeper than just these guys here,” Godsey said. “It shows that the guys that came before them set a precedence for this year’s team to follow.”

Deacon Aldridge maybe didn’t have his best statistical game passing the ball going 10 of 19 for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but his 103 rushing yards on 18 carries helped sustain drives.

And on defense, Garrett Fowler stepped up to make two key interceptions in the second half to end Cullman drives.

On the game’s second offensive play, Aldridge hooked up with Blake Slayton for a 56-yard touchdown, giving the Tigers a 6-0 lead after extra point kick failed.

Sidney Steele runs alongside Deacon Aldridge, who scored a touchdown from 55 yards out on this play. | Brent Maze

The Tigers then took advantage of Cullman’s first miscue. The Bearcats mishandled a Gavin Marsh punt near midfield. Blaze Lawrimore pounced on the football, giving Hartselle the ball its own 45-yard line.

On the next play, Aldridge faked the handoff and sprinted 55 yards for a touchdown. Marsh’s extra point gave Hartselle a 13-0 lead.

Cullman responded with a four-play, 68-yard drive. The key play was Zachary Crocker’s 47-yard screen pass that set up Crocker’s 19-yard touchdown toss to Troy Forrest. The extra point made it 13-7 at the end of the first quarter.

The Bearcats put together a long drive thanks in part to four Hartselle penalties, three of which were flags for being offside. The other flag for pass interference negated a Dax Gillespie interception.

On the ninth play of the drive, Crider scored on a 3-yard run. The Tigers blocked the extra point to make keep the game tied at 13-13.

The referees ruled that Deacon Aldridge fumbled the football although this photo shows he may have hit the ground before the ball came out. | Brent Maze

Hartselle had a promising drive end on a controversial fumble. The referees awarded the Bearcats the ball on the Cullman 25-yard line although it appeared that Aldridge’s arm was down before the ball came out. The call drew ire from Godsey and the Hartselle fans.

Thomas Fleischman bailed out the Tigers by tipping Crocker’s throw up in the air and catching it for an interception.

With 1:41 left in the half, Aldridge worked the sidelines with passes to Sidney Steele and Jeston Thompson to move the Tigers into field goal range, but Marsh’s 38-yard attempt was deflected at the line. The game was tied at halftime.

Cullman’s opening drive of the second half went all the way inside the Hartselle red zone, but the Tigers turned them away as Crocker’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

Jordan Orr and Waid Miller combine to tackle Cullman's Garrett Crider

Fowler’s first interception also ended another promising Bearcat drive a few minutes later, which allowed Hartselle to drive to the Cullman 30-yard line.

Cullman’s Crocker intercepted Aldridge’s pass on fourth down and returned it to Hartselle 41, giving the Bearcats its best field position of the night, but that’s when the Tiger defense stood tall. Senior Jordan Orr batted down the Crocker’s fourth-down pass to end the threat.

Hartselle’s Masio Stover was stripped of the football near midfield on the next play and the Bearcats recovered.

But Fowler wouldn’t let Cullman keep it, as he intercepted Crocker again on the ensuing snap. That turnover set up the go ahead drive, which was capped by Slayton’s 19-yard run for paydirt. Marsh’s extra point made it 20-13 with 6:32 left in the game.

Jordan Orr runs with the football after making an interception with 4:58 to go in the game. | Brent Maze

Cullman tried to rally, but they were turned away by interceptions on the final two drives, one by Orr and the other by Tyler Phillips. Casey Goodwin also had a sack the set up the first pick.

With less than a minute to go, Aldridge picked up a first down on third-and-short to run out the clock.

Slayton finished the game with 67 yards on eight carries with a touchdown. He had 123 yards of total offense for the game on just nine touches. Stover also added 46 yards on eight carries while Thompson had 39 yards receiving on five catches.

Hartselle finished the game with 212 yards rushing and 130 yards passing. The Tigers were also flagged 11 times for 91 yards compared to two Cullman penalties for just 20 yards.

Cullman’s Crocker finished the game with 231 yards on 23 of 35 passes with five interceptions and one touchdown. Mason Jones was Crocker’s favorite target catching eight passes for 74 yards. Crider had 61 yards on four catches and Forrest had 57 yards on five catches.

The Tigers will look to finish the season undefeated, as they will host Austin on Thursday night while Cullman faces Huntsville also on Thursday night.

Blake Slayton drags Cullman defensive back Jonathan Winfrey the final 4 yards to the end zone, which gave Hartselle a 20-13 lead with 6:32 left in the fourth quarter. | Brent Maze

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