Defense shines as Austin snaps Hartselle’s regular-season winning streak

Austin head coach Jeremy Perkins said the defense had been a priority for the team this offseason.

It showed Friday night.

Facing a Hartselle team that averaged 41 points per game each of the last two seasons, the Black Bears held the Tigers to 17 points in a 28-17 home win.

Austin forced four turnovers, the most crucial of which came in the final minute.

Facing a fourth and 5, down 21-17 with 1:14 left in the game, Hartselle quarterback Landon Blackwood faked a handoff and turned for a bootleg pass. What he found when he turned around was Austin defensive lineman Solomon Lyle.

“I knew I had to make a play,” said Lyle. “I knew I was going to get him.”

When Lyle connected for the hit, it forced a fumble, which fellow teammate Nathan Taylor picked up for a 57-yard touchdown dash that sealed the win for the Black Bears.

“When I saw the ball, the adrenaline just kicked in,” Taylor said. “At that point I had to score.”

Viewed as possible a weakness last year, the Austin defense looked like a completely different unit Friday night.

The Black Bears held Hartselle to seven points in the first half, and in the second half, despite bending, they never broke.

Austin forced three second-half turnovers, one in the end zone, and forced Hartselle to kick a field goal after the Tigers had driven to the 1-yard line.

“We’ve had a lot of people step up,” said Lyle. “There’s been no slacking or loafing at practice. People are putting the work in.”

The win snapped Hartselle’s 23-game regular-season winning streak. It also snapped a two-game losing streak for Austin to the Tigers.

“We’ll see what this does for our momentum. We have to build off this,” said Austin head coach Jeremy Perkins. “We have another big rivalry game next week (vs. Decatur). Hopefully this prepares us for that.”

Austin opened the scoring with a 65-yard touchdown strike from Judd Bailey to Nick Crayton. Hartselle quickly equalized when Ri Fletcher rushed for a 28-yard score.

Austin pushed its lead to 21-7 at halftime when JL Davis found Crayton for an 8-yard score and Jaxon Potter for a 14-yard score.

Hartselle added a touchdown in the fourth quarter off a 9-yard pass from Blackwood to Noah Lee. Noah Yates kicked a 25-yard field goal.

Coming into the season, Hartselle was replacing 10 of 11 starters on offense. It showed Friday night.

“Every level of the offense, there’s things to work on,” said Hartselle head coach Bryan Moore. “Missed blocks, snap issues, drops, throwing the ball out of bounds, throwing it to the other team, there’s a ton to correct. But we’ll fix that.”

“We could’ve packed it in, but we fought back and had a chance to win in the last minute. I think that’s a positive,” Moore added.

Austin will travel to Decatur next week for the annual River City Rivalry. Hartselle will host Jackson Olin