Champions: A look back at a perfect season
By Russell Frye
It has been 10 years since the Hartselle Tiger football team experienced perfection and the thrill of victory. In December 2011, Coach Bob Godsey and his Tigers lifted the blue map as state champions.
Ask any Hartselle fan who stood out to them from the 2011 season, and they will likely answer one or more of the following names: linebacker Jordan Orr, offensive lineman Will Swann, quarterback Deacon Aldridge, running back Blake Slayton, linebacker Dax Gillespie, running back Masio Stover and kicker Gavin Marsh.
Ten players were named to the Decatur Daily 4A-6A All-Area team – including player of the year Jordan Orr, who had 173 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception, and Godsey, who was named coach of the year.
Three Tigers were named to the 5A All-State team. First-team honorees were Orr and Swann, while Gillespie was named to the Honorable Mention team.
An old saying in football goes, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” That statement was true about the Tigers. They held eight opponents to 10 points or less. The offense, however, was just as impressive, scoring 42 or more points in seven games.
Hartselle outscored opponents 509-138. The average game score was 33.9 to 9.3. The 509 points scored still stands as a school record.
Hartselle entered the 2011 season with the bitter taste of a 24-21 semifinal loss to Briarwood Christian that ended their season at 12-2.
Here is a walk down memory lane, taking a look at the 15 games that made up the perfect season.
Hartselle 23, Athens 0
The Tigers went on the road to Athens to open the 2010 season. The defense dominated the Golden Eagle offense, holding them to 27 yards rushing and zero points. The Tiger offense, led by the duo of Aldridge and Slayton, rushed for 268 yards in the win.
Hartselle 54, Brewer 0
For their first home game, the Tigers hosted county rival Brewer at JP Cain Stadium. Aldridge was 10 of 11 passing for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The defense rose to the occasion once again, holding the Patriots scoreless for their second shutout of the season.
Hartselle 57, Hayden 0
The defense was the star of the game, as the Tigers picked up their third win of the season on the road at Hayden. The Wildcats were held to 23 total yards and had four turnovers as the third straight shutout victim for the Hartselle defense. Hayden didn’t cross midfield until late in the fourth quarter. Slayton had 88 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Aldridge finished with 83 yards passing and one touchdown in limited action.
Hartselle 17, Walker 3
The Tigers gave up some points in their fourth game of the season, as Walker took an early 3-0 lead. It was all Hartselle after that, though, as the Tigers outscored the Vikings 17-0 for the win. Aldridge finished with 15 completions for 170 yards passing and 86 yards rushing, while Slayton had 64 yards rushing and 57 receiving.
Hartselle 28, Decatur 21
In their first real test of the season, the Tigers defeated their bitter rival Decatur by a touchdown. The Red Raiders forced Hartselle into uncharacteristic turnovers and mistakes, but in the end, the Tigers came out on top. Slayton finished with 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead the Hartselle attack.
Hartselle 44, West Point 10
The Tigers had an explosive first half on their way to a 41-0 halftime lead. Stover finished with 107 yards rushing on two carries for a 53.5 yards-per-carry average. Aldridge had 114 yards passing and two touchdowns, while Gillespie added a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Hartselle 55, Curry 7
The offense shone, putting up 527 total yards and 55 points in the win over Curry. The Tigers rushed for 433 yards, with Slayton leading the way with 158 yards and two touchdowns. Stover added 104 yards and two touchdowns, while Deandre Mack added two more touchdowns. The defense held the Yellow Jackets to 99 yards and seven points.
Hartselle 49, Mortimer Jordan 13
The Tigers led 28-6 after one quarter and 42-6 at halftime. Aldridge finished with 131 yards passing and three touchdowns and rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown. Slayton added 117 yards and scored on runs of 33 and 48 yards.
Hartselle 20, Cullman 13
The visiting Tigers jumped out to an early 13-0 lead behind the arms and legs of Aldridge. He hit Slayton with a 56-yard touchdown pass and then scored on a 55-yard run following a Cullman turnover. Slayton scored a touchdown after the Bearcats tied the game at 13-13. He scored another after the Tigers forced a Cullman turnover late in the fourth.
Hartselle 42, Austin 14
The Tigers closed the regular season with a home win over Austin that Hartselle dominated from the opening kickoff. Stover ran for 216 yards and two scores, filling in for Slayton, who had a mild injury. The Tigers finished with 425 yards rushing in the victory. The win gave the Tigers a perfect regular season record for the third time in school history.
PLAYOFFS: Hartselle 52, Boaz 13
The Tigers opened the playoffs at Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 52-13 win over Boaz. Aldridge passed for 199 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 88 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Stover added two touchdown runs.
PLAYOFFS: Hartselle 22, Pinson Valley 21
Pinson Valley jumped out to a 14-0 lead – the largest deficit of the season for the Tigers – but saw Hartselle outscore them 22-7 to win the second-round playoff game. With the Tigers trailing 21-19 later in the fourth quarter, Aldridge led a game-winning drive that included two fourth-down conversions and a 34-yard completion to Jeston Thompson that set up Marsh for the winning 19-yard field goal.
QUARTERFINALS: Hartselle 17, Center Point 7
Hartselle hit the road again, traveling to Center Point for a quarterfinal matchup with the Eagles. The defense held Center Point scoreless on two drives that ended inside the Tigers’ 10-yard line. Slayton put the Tigers on the board with a one-yard run that capped a 14-play, 91-yard drive in the first half. In the second half, Stover added to the lead with a two-yard run for a 14-0 lead. After an Eagles touchdown, Marsh hit a field goal for the final 17-7 score.
SEMIFINALS: Hartselle 16, Briarwood Christian 14
The matchup the Tigers had been looking for since the 2010 season happened in the semifinals when Briarwood Christian visited JP Cain Stadium. The defense intercepted four Lions’ passes and held off a late charge in the two-point victory. Marsh finished with field goals of 32, 39 and 41 to elevate the Tigers to the state championship game.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP: Hartselle 13, Vigor 3
In the state finals, Hartselle’s opponent was the Vigor Wolves, who entered the game with a 12-2 record. In the second quarter, the Wolves drew first blood with a field goal for a 3-0 lead.
After that, they held the Tigers scoreless until Marsh hit a 38-yard field in the third quarter to tie the game at 3-3. He hit a 47-yard field goal late in the third for a 6-3 lead.
Slayton later added a 12-yard run to give Hartselle a 13-3 lead heading to the fourth quarter. He finished with 79 yards rushing on 18 carries. Aldridge, injured on the game’s second drive, came back to lead the Tigers to the victory. He rushed for 67 yards.
Godsey, who now coaches at Madison Academy, said the entire 2011 team was remarkable, especially with how each player had a role and played it to perfection each week.
“A lot of things went through my mind as I was able to lift the championship trophy,” Godsey said. “I thought about all the former Hartselle teams and players that had been so close to winning it all and how important it was for them. I thought about how far this particular team had come, and they got to experience something like a state championship.
“I also thought about Coach Larry Peck, who had given so much to Hartselle football, and he would go out as he deserved: a champion. Finally, I thought about our fans; the support our town gives all of our events is amazing.
“A football state championship was the one thing missing, and it had now been delivered.”
The energy all over town during that season was unbelievable. Large crowds attended every game, every send-off, every pep rally.
Godsey said the Walk of Champions going into Bryant-Denny was an unforgettable experience.
“We were waiting on the bus till 5:15 to start the Walk of Champions when the police called me out and said, ‘You are going to have to bring them off the bus; this is getting out of control,’” Godsey said. “People were running up the street to be a part of it. Things like that are what makes Hartselle such a special place.”
The 2011 Tigers gave the City of Hartselle memories that will last a lifetime.