ATHENS - The Hartselle Tigers headed to Athens this past Friday night, looking to rid themselves of some bad memories from the previous two matchups with the Golden Eagles.
In Bryan Moore’s first season at Hartselle, his Tigers were dominated in a loss at Athens. Last season, the Golden Eagles hung with the undefeated Tigers for most of the game until Hartselle pulled away late in the second half.
“I am proud of our kids' performance tonight,” said Moore. “This has been the toughest stretch of games I have ever been a part of as a coach. Playing four straight on the road has been difficult. We didn’t play perfect each week but found different ways to win every week.”
The Tigers made sure that neither scenario would come into play this year as they scored on the third play of the game when Ri Fletcher took the Jack Smith handoff and ran 71 yards down the Athens sideline to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 10:47 left in the first quarter.
Following a Tigers’ defensive stop on fourth down near midfield, Hartselle extended the lead to 10-0 when Crawford Lang connected on a 44-yard field goal with 5:59 left in the first.
The Tigers tacked on seven more points with less than 32 seconds left in the first quarter when Smith hit a diving Izayah Fletcher with a five-yard scoring pass in the right side of the endzone.
After almost 10 minutes of scoreless play, the Tigers pushed the lead to 24-0 with 2:02 left in the first half when Lincoln Bryant scored on an eight-yard run.
Jayden Morris extended the Hartselle lead to 31-0 with a one-yard run with 8:37 left in the third quarter. His scoring plunge was set up by his 27-yard run the play before.
Athens finally broke their scoring drought with a 57-yard touchdown pass with 6:47 left in the third.
However, it didn’t take the Tigers long to push the lead back to 31 points when Bryant scored his second touchdown with 4:26 remaining in the third.
Landon Blackwood capped off the Hartselle scoring with a three-yard touchdown run with 9:54 left in the game.
Athens added two late touchdowns to make the final score 45-21.
The Tigers finished with 426 yards, including 254 yards rushing and 172 yards passing.
Bryant led Hartselle with a career-high 133 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Ri Fletcher finished with 74 yards and a touchdown on two carries. Morris added 27 yards and a touchdown.
“Bryant did a tremendous job tonight filling in for Ri,” said Moore. “He runs similar to Ri and has done well in crucial moments this season. Jayden Morris, the freshman, also did a tremendous job for us tonight.
Smith finished 15-of-20 for 135 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception. Blackwood was 2-of2 for 37 yards.
Jakaleb Goodwin had two crucial interceptions to keep the Golden Eagles off the scoreboard in the closing moments of the first half.
Hartselle (8-0, 4-0) will finally be back on friendly soil this Friday as they welcome arch-rival Decatur (6-1, 3-) to J.P. Cain Stadium for a critical 6A Region 7 matchup. With a win, the Tigers finish with the top seed from their region for the second consecutive season.