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Tigers bound for T-town

Hartselle forced four  turnovers and used three Gavin Marsh field goals to defeat Briarwood Christian 16-14, putting the Tigers in their first state championship game in nearly three decades.

Head coach Bob Godsey said his team has shown the heart of a champion once again as the Tigers manufactured enough points to win and hold an explosive Briarwood team to a pair of second-half touchdowns.

“This (win) goes much deeper than just this group of kids out here tonight,” Godsey said. “This goes back to the guys last couple of years to even before I started coaching here. They laid the foundation for just what we did here tonight.

“There was a calm about us all week, a quiet confidence. We played well in all phases and we beat a great football team.”

All four of the Tigers’ turnovers came via interceptions. Tyler Phillips had two picks in the first half, one of which set up Hartselle’s first field goal of the game. A holding penalty negated a Blaze Lawrimore 6-yard touchdown pass from Deacon Aldridge, but Marsh connected from 32 yards out to give Hartselle a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.

On the next Tiger possession, Hartselle drove 68 yards in 13 plays to get its only touchdown. The drive was aided by a face mask penalty on a Lion sack. Then, Lawrimore and Aldridge hooked up for a 12-yard gain on third-and-8, leading to Aldridge’s 4-yard touchdown option keeper. Marsh added the extra point to make it 10-0, which wound up being the halftime score.

Briarwood came to life in the second half, driving 64 yards in nine plays to get on the board. Benjamin Craft lofted a pass to his big tight end, Canon Smith, for a 14-yard score nearly four minutes into the third quarter. Benson Mulvaney added the extra point to make it 10-7.

Lawrimore and Aldridge got together on another big play, this time a 40-yard pass to put Hartselle in scoring range. Marsh made a 39-yard field goal moments later to push the lead back to six points.

After an exchange of punts, Hartselle was able to get some much needed insurance early in the fourth quarter. Aldridge scrambled for 26 yards after no one was open on a pass play. Blake Slayton took an option pitch 12 yards for a first down at the Lion 26.

But Hartselle only managed just two more yards before calling on Marsh to try a critical field goal. Marsh wasn’t sure he got it when he kicked it.

“I was a little worried about that last one,” Marsh said. “I thought I had missed it when I kicked it, but it had just enough.”

That close 41-yard field goal made it a two-possession game, at the 8:20 mark of the fourth quarter.

The Tigers then turned it over to their defense. Charleston Williams came up with an interception to turn the Lions away, a key play that allowed Hartselle to run off more clock and make it more difficult for Briarwood to come back.

Williams said he wasn’t sure why the secondary was able to come up with some many picks, but he was glad they did.

“They were just up there and we had to go make a play,” Williams said. “I kind of don’t know what to say right now because I’m just so happy. We’ve just got to go down and take care of business in T-town.”

The Tigers couldn’t deny Briarwood one more score as Craft and Smith hooked up on a 7-yard touchdown with just over two minutes left in the game.

Trailing two points and just one timeout, Briarwood was forced to try an onside kick, but Williams came up with the recovery.

After running as much time off the clock as it could, Hartselle punted the ball back to Briarwood with the ball on the BC 17 and 30 seconds on the clock. Garrett Fowler ended the Lions’ last gasp by intercepting the final pass with 11 seconds to go.

Aldridge took a knee to run out the clock and send Hartselle to the Class 5A State Championship.

The Tigers will play Thursday at 7 p.m. on The University of Alabama campus against Vigor, which defeated Hueytown 20-7.

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