Hartselle quarterback Luke Godsey prepares to throw against Lawrence County. | Tom Chappell

Hartselle and Hazel Green face off in pivotal region game

Caleb Suggs

Hartselle Enquirer

It’s that time of year again in class 6A region 8 football. This Friday night the Hartselle Tigers will host the Hazel Green Trojans, and yes, this game could be a pivotal region game when it comes to who makes playoffs at the end of the year.

Schedule overview:

Hazel Green comes into this game sitting at third in the region with a 2-1 region record, while Hartselle is sitting at fourth with a 1-2 record. Hartselle actually has the better overall record, however, as the Tigers sit at 4-2 compared to the Trojans 2-3. Hartselle has wins over Cullman, Lawrence County, Athens, Russellville and losses to Florence and Muscle Shoals. The Russellville win was their most recent game, in which they pounded the Golden Tigers 51-0. Hazel Green comes in with a 2-3 record. Their two wins were over Columbia and Decatur and their losses were to Buckhorn, Austin and Sparkman. Their most recent game was a 20-14 loss to Sparkman.

Recent history:

These two squads don’t have much history as they just moved into the same region last year. This game had a lot of hype last year when Hartselle traveled to Hazel Green, but it never lived up to it. Hartselle jumped on the Trojans early and then cruised to a 40-18 victory.

Strengths and weaknesses:

Hartselle:  Hartselle’s strength is built on the backbone of their defense and playing disciplined football. The defense has had three games this season where they didn’t allow a single offensive touchdown. The Tigers could very well be one of the most well coached teams in Region 8, if not the most.

Hartselle’s offense has struggled with inconsistency so far this season, which is largely due to their inexperience on that side of the ball. At times, they have looked unstoppable and at other times, they have really struggled.

Hazel Green: Like some other teams in Region 8, Hazel Green is loaded with talent. The Trojans have gamechangers at many the skill positions. However, Hazel Green has trouble putting that talent together. They also have trouble handling pressure. Last season the Trojans started out hot, which included a big win over Austin. However, they lost a tough game to Decatur and then suffered a blow out to Hartselle. The Trojans limped through the rest of the season before missing the playoffs. The same can be said for this season. Against 6A top ranked Austin, Hazel Green moved the ball better thanagainst the Black Bears better than any other team and could have made it a shoot out, but costly mistakes and turnovers in the red zone killed their momentum.

Keys to victory:

Hartselle: The Tigers need to recapture their big play magic on offense. After amassing 106 total points through the first three games, they only managed 21 in their two losses. They also need to get out of their own way. Against both Florence and Muscle Shoals, the Tigers moved the ball well and had several drives where they moved into the opponents territory, but came away with no points. That can’t happen against Hazel Green. The Tigers got back on track with a 51-0 blasting of Russellville. Can they keep it up two weeks in a row?

Hazel Green: The Trojans can’t let the game get too big for them. Hazel Green has the talent to compete with anybody if they don’t beat themselves. Forcing Hartselle into uncharacteristic mistakes seems to be a blue print that worked well for Florence and Muscle Shoals as well.

Players to watch:

Hartselle: Mac Meyer- the junior receiver had quite the day last Friday when he caught two touchdown passes for a total of 123 yards. The star junior had been quietly missing through the first four games, as had the deep ball, until their game against Muscle Shoals when Meyer caught a 50-yard pass. Meyer followed that up with an even bigger game last week. Can he continue to build on that?

Jackson Terry- Terry went on for an injury on the second play against Florence and the secondary never recovered. Hazel Green has similar athletes to Florence, so it will be interesting to watch how the secondary reacts having Terry, who has been called the “Quarterback of the defense” back there.

Hazel Green: Chase Starling- It may look like Baker Mayfield at times with his familiar number six jersey, but Hartselle fans can relax some because he’s not. At least not yet. Starling is Hazel Green’s star quarterback in the making. The rising sophomore is still inexperienced, but he has flashed his potential plenty already this season. He will be the player to watch for the visiting Trojans.

Overall:

I have been told by people familiar with both schools that this could be one of the most, if not the most, exciting games in region 8 this year, which is saying a lot considering this region puts out a lot of exciting games each year. Add the fact that the winner will be sitting pretty in the playoff race, while the loser will be fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way, and that makes for an intriguing game.

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