By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
A 26-year drought versus Russellville came to an end, coach Mark Britton earned his 100th win with the Cullman football program and arch-rival Hartselle lost for a second straight week.
What a great Friday night for the Bearcats.
Needless to say, the bus was rocking on the Black and Gold’s 1.5-hour drive back home. And why wouldn’t it after No. 10 Cullman made a gutsy defensive stop on a 2-point conversion at the 1-yard line to walk away with a knee-knocking 21-20 overtime victory.
“I’m just real proud of our kids. They knew everything was on the line, sucked it up and got after it,” Britton said. “They were beat up and exhausted but really in such a big way that you’re proud for them as coaches. That’s a big reward for us to see the kids excited, enjoying the success.”
The night didn’t start as well as it finished for the Bearcats (5-1), who found themselves down 14-0 early on in the second quarter. Quarterback Zac Crocker hit Troy Forrest on a 12-yard touchdown pass shortly before halftime, though, to give Cullman just the spark it needed.
“I think our kids gained a lot of confidence from that right there,” Britton said. “We played a lot better in the second half. We were more aggressive and kept coming up with big plays.”
But no play was bigger than the last.
After Garrett Crider opened the overtime period with his second 2-yard touchdown run of the night to give the Bearcats a 21-14 lead, the Golden Tigers’ Bud Coleman responded with a rushing score from the same distance.
Instead of going for the point-after attempt, however, Russellville (4-2) decided to go for the win.
The Golden Tigers took advantage of an offside penalty to start their 2-point conversion at the 1, but the Cullman defense held strong, guessed run the entire way and forced a fumble to seal the victory over their Class 5A, Region 8 rival. Britton said he was pretty sure that Michael Skinner was the Bearcat who came up with the loose ball.
“Coach (Matt) Hopper did a good job,” Britton said of his defensive coordinator’s strategy for that last play. “We sold out to stop the run right there. If you don’t commit to something, you won’t stop anything.”
Administrators, fans and players were ecstatic to see Britton reach 100 wins on Friday night, but the coach had already moved on by the very next day. Instead, he’s got his sights on the rest of Cullman’s region schedule, as well as the playoffs, which the Bearcats are in good shape to reach after last night’s win.
“I’m sure it’s going to be good down the road when I reflect back on it,” Britton said of his milestone. “But at this time of year, you’re really just too busy to enjoy it.”
Top-ranked Muscle Shoals defeated No. 4 Hartselle 28-21 on Friday night to take complete control of the region at 4-0. Cullman and Hartselle are right behind at 3-1, while Russellville and East Limestone are both 2-2.
With a marquee matchup against the Trojans waiting for the Bearcats in Week 9, Britton acknowledged it’s not safe for his players to look too far ahead. Cullman will host Lawrence County for homecoming next Friday and then travel to Athens the following week.
“I still think if you get complacent, you can get in trouble in our region,” the coach said. “We want to keep the kids grounded.”
% Good times in Aggie land: It took quite awhile for the party to stop in Fairview following a come-from-behind 30-16 thrashing of St. Clair County on Friday night.
But once the homecoming crowd started to die down and players began to file out of the locker room, Luke Bailey had a morsel of information he’d been dying to share with his head coach.
“He looked at me, gave me a high five and told me, ‘I broke the win record tonight,’” George Redding recalled.
With four unanswered rushing touchdowns, Bailey not only led the Purple and Gold to a statement win over the Fighting Saints but became the winningest quarterback in school history. His 22 wins behind center as an Aggie pushed him one ahead of the previous mark that had been held by none other than Redding.
Bitterness wouldn’t even come close to describing the coach’s feelings about being passed by Bailey. Instead, Redding is more than happy to pass the torch to a player and kid as competitive and hard-working as the All-State senior.
“He’s just a winner,” he said of Bailey. “He’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. At the same time, he does an outstanding job of keeping things in perspective. He knows why we’re here and what we’re trying to do. Like I always say, he’s an outstanding athlete but an even better kid.”
There were plenty of smiles to go around in Aggie land by the end of the night, but the same couldn’t have been said during the first half of Friday night’s game.
Fairview racked up penalty after penalty, dropped pass after pass and allowed big run after big run to allow St. Clair County to take a 16-0 lead early in the second quarter.
At that point, a victory for the Aggies looked out of reach to everyone at Dafford Smith Stadium.
Make that everyone except for the Aggies.
Bailey kept Fairview close with a 24-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter and then watched from the sideline as Justin Bryan put the team in position to score with a now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t 67-yard kickoff return to open the second half. The quarterback forged ahead for that score to close the gap in the third quarter and crossed the goal line twice in the last 12 minutes to complete the comeback.
After allowing Kartez Carr, the Fighting Saints’ star running back, to tear up the turf for over 100 yards in the first half, the Aggie D buckled down, recovered a fumble and forced three straight turnover on downs in the final two quarters.
“We had every opportunity to lay down and say, ‘Hey, we can’t do this,’” Redding said of the early deficit. “But it’s not their character. They’re going to compete. There was not a doubt the whole time.”
With the win, as well as Sardis’s overtime defeat of Guntersville on Friday night, Fairview holds its playoff fate in its own hands. The Aggies improved to 3-1 in Class 4A, Region 6 and only trail Oneonta and Sardis, which are both 4-0. St. Clair County dropped to 3-1.
Up next for the Purple and Gold are the Redskins. Class 4A’s No. 1 team will head to Fairview next Friday riding the momentum of a 63-8 win over Douglas where three quarterbacks combined for seven passing touchdowns.
Redding acknowledged that most programs consider facing the state’s top team as a struggle. He only sees it as an opportunity, though.
“There’s not a whole lot that has to be said about Oneonta,” Redding said. “Everybody knows how good they’re going to be. They have a winning tradition and they know what it’s like to grind it out for 15 week.
“Who wouldn’t want a chance to play against the best? We’re going to get that chance.”
‰ Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.