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Tigers rally to beat Cullman

Hartselle overcomes three turnovers, scores TD with 3 seconds left for 19th straight win

Blake Slayton’s one-yard touchdown on an option pitch from Deacon Aldridge with three seconds left lifted No. 1 Hartselle to a 21-14 win over No. 6 Cullman in a key region game Friday night at J.P. Cain Stadium.

But the key to the drive to Aldridge wasn’t the final play. It was instead the fact that Hartselle (4-0, 3-0) got the ball back.

Cullman (3-1, 2-1) got the ball with 4:18 to play, but was forced to punt after gaining only 17 yards. That gave Hartselle the ball back at its 25-yard line with 2:22 remaining.

“Our defense stepped up and gave us that chance,” Aldridge said. “Once we got the ball back, I knew we were going to take it down there to score.”

Head coach Bob Godsey was looking to give Hunter Hammack an opportunity to win the game on a field goal, but when Aldridge had a 21-yard run to the Cullman 1, he changed his mind.

“I felt that the angle was just to tough for Hunter to make,” Godsey said. “So we decided to go for it.

“This team just has a will to win. They just find a way to win.”

Senior defensive lineman Thomas Fleischman said the team didn’t let three turnovers in the first half hurt its confidence.

“Turnovers are going to happen,” said senior defensive lineman Thomas Fleischman. “We just didn’t get down on ourselves. We just kept fighting out there.”

For Aldridge, it was a tale of two halves. He misfired on his first five passes, but then hit seven of his next eight passes to finish 7-for-13 for 84 yards with two interceptions. he also finished That also included three big completions on the final drive, two to Sidney Steele and one to Tanner Oakes.

Slayton also broke off a big run in the 10-play, 75-yard drive before he finished it. Slayton had 26 carries for 194 yards with two scores.

Hartselle got off to a rough start as Cullman used a controlled passing attack to maintain possession of the ball. The Bearcats ran off 30 plays in the first quarter compared to just eight for Hartselle.

That included a 17-play, 82-yard drive to end the first quarter off an interception. However, all of that would be for naught.

The Tiger defense stuffed Cullman on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the quarter’s last play.

Two plays later, Cullman’s Michael Skinner intercepted Aldridge and returned it 26 yards for the score, giving Cullman a 7-0 lead with 10:42 left in the second quarter.

Hartselle rallied with a 10-play, 60-yard drive, capped off by another Slayton one-yard run. Hunter Hammack added the PAT to tie the score at 7-7.

Cullman took the lead after Ian Riley recovered a Hartselle fumble. Four plays later, Zac Crocker hit Houston Turner for a 6-yard touchdown, giving the Bearcats a 14-7 lead at halftime.

That lead didn’t last long as Hartselle drove 62 yards in seven plays to tie the game. On fourth-and-goal, Aldridge ran the option keeper in the end zone for a two-yard score.

Neither team did much until the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-4 from the Hartselle 18, the Bearcats’ kicker missed a 31-yard field goal, leaving the game tied with 8:22 left in the game.

Six minutes later, Hartselle would start its winning march to the goal line. Slayton said he they had no doubt that they were going to win the game when the got the ball back.

“We were going to score,” Slayton said. “On the goal line, I think they might have been thinking we were going to run up the middle because we hit a big run up the middle. So we went with the option. Deacon gave me a good pitch and I got the touchdown.”

Aldridge credited his team with the success in this win.

“The O-line blocked great. The defense played great all night,” Aldridge said. “We have the best defense in the state.”

The Tigers will host Decatur in a non-region game on Sept. 28. After that is a showdown at No. 2 Muscle Shoals.