Hartselle’s comeback falls short in 28-17 loss to Austin

The Hartselle Tigers saw their comeback fall short on Friday night in their 28-17 loss to Austin.

The loss snapped Hartselle’s 23-game regular season winning streak, the second longest in Alabama.

The Tigers opened the game by muffing the opening kickoff and Austin recovering the loose ball. However, on the Black Bears’ first play, Cole Miles blew up the Austin ball carrier and forced a fumble that Eli King recovered.

After the Hartselle was forced to punt, the Black Bears’ offense took over with the ball inside their 5-yard line. After two Austin runs that moved the ball out to the 35-yard line, quarterback Judd Bailey connected with Nicholas Crayton on a 65-yard touchdown pass to give the Black Bears a 7-0 lead with less than eight minutes remaining in the first half.

The Tigers responded with a 74-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a 28-yard touchdown run by Ri Fletcher to tie the game at 7-7 with less than two minutes remaining in the opening quarter.

Austin scored two touchdowns inside the final four minutes of the first half. The first came on a JL Davis 25-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Potter to put the Black Bears up 14-7. Davis then connected with Crayton on a 6-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining to extend their lead to 21-7 going into halftime.

Austin got the ball to start the second half but couldn’t do anything with it as Miles stepped up for the Tigers’ defense and grabbed his first interception to end a potential Black Bears scoring drive.

The Austin defense picked off the Tigers Landon Blackwood midway through the third quarter, but the Black Bears failed to convert on the turnover, having to punt the ball back to Hartselle.

Hartselle had a four-minute drive to end the third quarter with the ball inside the Black Bear’s two-yard line to start the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Tigers went backward on a batched run and then a penalty that forced them to kick a field goal that was made by Noah Yates, cutting the lead to 21-10 with less than 11 minutes remaining.

After the teams traded punts, Hartselle marched downfield with a scoring drive of less than two minutes. Blackwood set up the score with a 25-yard run and followed that up with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Noah Lee, who made an excellent play by dragging his foot to stay inbounds for the score. After the extra point, the Tigers trailed 21-17 with less than four minutes remaining.

The Hartselle defense stepped up to give the Tigers the ball back with about three minutes remaining following a tackle for loss by Jameson Falciani and a sack by Christian Baulding.

Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn’t capitalize in the final minutes and saw the Austin defense make a fourth down stop that forced a fumble that was recovered by Nathan Taylor, who returned it for a 39-yard touchdown to make the final score 28-17.

“We have to learn how to finish drives,” coach Bryan Moore said. “We will fix the execution issues; I am sure of that.”

Fletcher finished the game with 75 yards rushing and a touchdown. Blackwood finished 14-of-28 for 128 yards passing with a touchdown and two interceptions while rushing for 50 yards.

Lee finished with seven receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown, while Jayden Morris had three for 19 yards.

Miles led the defense with 11 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Jake Haynes added 10 tackles, while Porter Simmons had eight tackles with three for loss, including a sack.

“I am leaving the game more encouraged than I was heading into the game,” Moore said. “We had players who grew up in tonight’s game that will lead to huge dividends for us in the not-too-distant future.”

Hartselle will host Jackson-Olin on Friday at JP Cain Stadium.