Remembering the 2011 Hartselle Tigers

 

| Enquirer file photo
| Enquirer file photo

Caleb Suggs

Hartselle Enquirer

 

There are many great sports stories that have been told throughout history and most of them have been portrayed on the big screen. Remember the Titans, Hoosiers and Rudy. However, there are some stories that do not get to be told that deserve to be. This season marks the five-year anniversary of the season in which the Hartselle Tigers ran the table en route to their first ever-state championship. What makes that different than any other state championship? It was never supposed to happen.

Before the 2011 ever began you, have to roll the clock back one year to November 26, 2010. The Hartselle Tigers had just broken their quarter final curse a week earlier by defeating defending 5a north champions the Russellville Golden Tigers and where heading into a post-Thanksgiving battle with 5A private school power Briarwood Christian. It was a tough battle between two of the state’s premier teams and four quarters proved to not be enough as the teams were at a stand still at 21-21. This sent the game to overtime with Hartselle getting the ball first. Unfortunately for the Tiger fans, Briarwood would intercept a pass and then kick a field goal to take the win 24-21. It was crushing blow to the city of Hartselle, some of who thought that it would be the Tiger’s best chance of ever gaining a state championship.

Flash forward to August 26, 2011, the Hartselle Tigers were opening their season against the Athens Golden Eagles and were under a mountain of scrutiny, having lost 14 starters from the previous year’s team all the critics said this team will be lucky to go 6-4 and make playoffs much less win a state championship. As the game began Hartselle struggled to find an offensive rhythm early but found their base late in the game and cruised to a 23-0 victory. Four weeks later, Hartselle prepared for a clash with local big time rival the Decatur Red Raiders, riding high on an undefeated 4 game record, in which they had not given up a single offensive touchdown and had only given up 3 points total.

The Tigers suffered key injuries to two defensive starters early and this led to the defense giving up their first touchdowns as Decatur scored three. However, Hartselle’s offense came to life and outscored Decatur to roll to a 28-21 victory. Four more weeks later and Hartselle faced its final regular season obstacle and it came in the form of bitter rival the Cullman Bearcats and it was for the region title. For 48 minutes, the two teams went back and forth before finally a late interception by Tyler Phillips sealed the 20-13 victory for the Tigers.

The next chapter in the Tigers saga came on Veterans Day 2011, the Tigers travel to Pinson Valley for the second round of the playoffs. A huge favorite over the Indians the Tigers found themselves in a deep hole early and spent the entire game digging themselves out. It all came down to a final drive and on a fourth down play it looked like the Tiger’s magical season was over. Quarterback Deacon Aldridge was sacked and it seemed all hope was lost, that is until a Pinson Valley player was flagged for a facemask. Hartselle made the most of their second chance a few plays later when Aldridge found J.T. Thompson for a deep pass to get inside the five-yard line. Gavin Marsh would kick the game winning field goal to seal the comeback win 22-21.

That dramatic victory would set up a post-thanksgiving rematch with Briarwood two weeks later. However, this matchup would be much different than the first. Despite returning almost the entire roster from the previous year, Briarwood couldn’t beat Hartselle’s determination. A late interception by Garrett Fowler would give Hartselle the win 16-14 and send them to their first finals game since 1981.

As December 1, 2011, drew near all people in Hartselle heard was they cannot do it, they’re not big enough and they’re not fast enough. Critics stated that Vigor was going to completely run over them. Vigor looked like a small college team, several of their players were division one and some even sec bound including Deshaun Davis (Auburn) along with Darius Philon and Jamichael Winston (both Arkansas). Vigor was also just coming off a win in which they held number one ranked Hueytown, who was led by future Heisman trophy winner Jamiess Winston, to just seven points. However, Vigor’s size and speed was not enough to overcome Hartselle’s discipline. Hartselle’s game plan dissected Vigor’s team and the team full players who would never play after high school ran over the team full of future college players en route to a 13-3 victory.

What’s the point of this story? In sports there are always going to be people who say you are not good enough or you cannot do it. The 2011 Hartselle Tigers proved that you don’t have to be the fastest or strongest to win. It also proved that no matter how much criticism a team receives there is always a way to overcome it.

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