Hartselle slips past Decatur with blocked punt

The Hartselle Tigers entered their matchup with Decatur, facing several limitations due to injuries to several offensive and defensive players. And for 47 minutes and 51 seconds, the Red Raiders took advantage of the Hartselle limitations.

“Coach Savage and Decatur had a tremendous plan coming into the game to take advantage of our limitations,” Hartselle coach Bryan Moore said. “But we have to get healthy over the next couple of weeks, or it is going to be tough to continue to progress.”

Decatur scored the first touchdown of the game when quarterback Bradin Dupper connected with Wyatt Smith for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 6:20 left in the first quarter.

Hartselle closed the first quarter with an 8-play, 50-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard Ri Fletcher touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 22 seconds remaining. Fletcher finished with 25 yards rushing during the drive.

The Tigers extended their lead to 14-7 with an 8-play, 42-yard drive capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Noah Lee to Marcus Tapscott with 8:29 remaining in the first half.

Hartselle closed out the first half with a 14-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a missed Noah Yates 34-yard field goal. The drive was set up by a Ja’kaleb Goodwin forced fumble and recovery at the Hartselle 5-yard line.

The Tigers opened the second half with a Lincoln Bryant 46-yard kickoff return that gave Hartselle excellent field position at the Decatur 35-yard line. Unfortunately, the Tigers failed to take advantage of the field position when Decatur’s Dunyea Dorsey intercepted Lee’s pass and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-13 with 9:41 left in the third quarter.

The Red Raiders took the lead with 11:20 remaining in the game when Dupper scored on a 13-yard run to cap a 13-play, 52-yard drive to give Decatur a 19-14 lead. The Red Raiders’ two-point attempt failed, leaving them with a five-point lead. The drive was set up by Kolby Brown’s recovery of a Bryant fumble.

As time was winding down and it looked like Decatur was going to break a six-year losing streak in the series with Hartselle, the Tigers were looking for a spark.

Hartselle got their spark with a little more than three minutes remaining when sophomore Cole Miles came off the edge untouched and dove to block Decatur’s punt by Roberto Toto. The Red Raiders recovered the ball for a 17-yard loss, giving the Tigers one more chance at the win.

“I asked the coaches to swap me with Hudson Buckelew, who just missed on a punt block earlier, and let me have a chance,” Miles said. “I got a clean release at the snap and laid out at the right time to get the block and change the game.”

“Miles block changed the entire momentum of the game,” Moore said. “Miles asked to switch positions for the punt after missing a block earlier in the game. His change gave him a tremendous run at the block, and he did it and gave us new life.”

Hartselle capitalized on Miles’ heroic play and drove 37 yards in 10 plays, culminating with the game’s winning touchdown on a one-yard touchdown pass from Lee to Tapscott with 9.2 seconds remaining, giving the Tigers a 20-19 come-from-behind victory.

“We were able to use the run game after the punt block to move downfield into scoring position,” Moore said. “Noah made a tremendous pass to Marcus to give us the win.”

The win came in Hartselle’s fifth consecutive one-score game, with the Tigers finishing 4-1 in the stretch.

“This was a difficult stretch for us, and coming away from it with a 4-1 record is great, especially considering our injuries in the latter part of the stretch,” Moore added.

Fletcher led the Tigers’ offense with 105 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He also had a kickoff return for 21 tards and a 20-yard punt return. Bryant finished with 92 yards rushing on 18 carries and two kickoff returns for 69 yards.

Lee finished 14-of-26 for 95 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Tapscott had eight receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns, while Jayden Morris had five for 28 yards.

The Tigers (7-2, 4-1) have a much-needed bye week this week before closing the regular season with a road trip to Bob Jones.