HARTSELLE - The Hartselle Tigers entered the first round of the 6A state playoffs, looking to overcome the demons of playoffs past. The Tigers were looking for their first win in the playoffs since 2018 when they defeated Pelham 35-7.
Thanks to the play of Ri Fletcher and the Tigers’ defense, Hartselle routed the visiting Buckhorn Bucks 52-7 to get the victory they were seeking.
“The win was big for us in getting that first playoff win under our belt,” Hartselle head coach Bryan Moore said. “We dominated all phases of the game and scored in all three.”
The Tigers got touchdowns from Stinnett Hagemann and Landon Blackwood to take a 14-0 lead just over 5 minutes into the game. Hagemann’s score came on a seven-yard run, while Blackwood’s touchdown came on a 22-yard reception from Jake Smith.
Fletcher scored the first of his three touchdowns on the next Tigers’ possession with a 62-yard run down the Hartselle sideline to put Hartselle up 21-0 with 4:03 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Fletcher returned a Buckhorn punt 49 yards to put the Tigers up 28-0 with 9:03 remaining in the half.
The Bucks got on the scoreboard less than a minute later when quarterback Terrence Robinson broke a couple of tackles on his way to a 48-yard touchdown run. Following the extra point- Hartselle led 28-7.
Fletcher and the Tigers answered right back as he followed his blockers and returned the Buckhorn kickoff 85 yards to extend the lead to 35-7.
“Ri’s performance tonight was pretty special,” Moore added. “He scored three different ways tonight.”
Hartselle tacked on a defensive touchdown with 43 seconds left in the first half when a snap sailed over the Bucks’ quarterback’s head into the endzone. After a struggle for the ball, Kaden Worley recovered the turnover for a Tigers score and a 42-7 halftime lead.
The Tigers added 10 points in the second half on a 38-yard field goal by Crawford Lang in the third quarter and an 11-yard touchdown run by Noah Lee in the fourth quarter.
Fletcher finished with 231 yards of total offense, including 97 yards rushing, an 85-yard kickoff return and a 49-yard punt return.
“It means a lot to get past the first round for me,” Fletcher said. “I missed my chance at a score on the first punt when I took a fair catch, but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again the second time, which led to the punt return touchdown.”
Smith was 7-of-10 for 108 yards with one touchdown. Blackwood finished 3-of-4 passing for 32 yards, and he had two receptions for 63 yards with a touchdown, along with a carry for 17 yards. Lincoln Bryant added 65 yards rushing on nine carries.
Worley led the defense with nine tackles, while sophomore Porter Simmons had eight, including two for loss. Peyton Steele had five tackles and an interception.
“Simmons’ play was big for our defense,” Moore said. “He controlled the Buckhorn line of scrimmage and was causing issues for the Bucks in the backfield all night long.”
No. 5 Hartselle (11-0) will host No. 8 Center Point (9-1), who defeated Jackson-Olin 26-8. The Tigers defeated Jackson Olin 39-6 earlier in the season.
“Having a second home game in the postseason is huge for us,” Moore said. “I expect a wild and raucous atmosphere at J.P. Cain next Friday night.