By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
For just a split second, it seemed as though this year’s cardiac Cullman football squad was destined to add another exciting tale to its storybook.
On the final play of the Bearcats’ 28-21 second-round playoff loss to No. 4 Southside-Gadsden on Friday night, quarterback Tyler Glenn took the snap at his own 49-yard line, completed a pass to wideout Maison Goodwin, who proceeded to fumble the ball at the Panther 35 trying to pitch it to senior Auston Neal. With the pigskin on the ground, Neal scooped it up, eluded a couple of Southside-Gadsden defenders and raced down the left sideline poised to send the game into overtime.
Unfortunately for the Black and Gold nation, he was upended at the 9-yard line by one last Panther defender, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and ending the year for Cullman at 8-4.
“It’s a play we’ve worked on all season,” Bearcat coach Mark Britton said. “They messed up our exchange a little bit with that tackle on Maison. If we had been able to pitch it clean, who knows what might have happened.”
It was certainly a tough loss and perhaps a fitting end for Britton’s squad, which fought valiantly — as it has all season long in every game —with one of the top teams in Class 5A for four quarters.
Cullman got on the scoreboard first, as Glenn found Goodwin on a slant for an 18-yard touchdown strike early in the opening frame.
The Panthers answered on the very next play, however, tying the game with a 39-yard reverse by scat back Blake Devine after his team garnered good field position following a Bearcat penalty.
The teams exchanged scores once more — a 3-yard touchdown run by Black and Gold running back Garrett Crider and a 1-yard scoring plunge by the Panthers’ Dantley Coker — to enter the half all square at 14 apiece.
The second half opened with a couple of three-and-outs for each squad before the Bearcats found themselves inside their opponent’s 25-yard line after a couple of solid plays from scrimmage during their second possession.
On the next snap, however, Glenn was intercepted at the 2-yard line trying to throw the ball away in wake of a Panther blitz.
From there, it soon became the Coker show.
The bruising senior was limited to just 62 first-half yards — he entered the contest over the 2,000 yard mark on the season — but soon found his rhythm against the ‘Cats defense.
Coker carried the ball 13 times for 67 yards, including 12 straight to open the possession, during Southside’s 17-play, 98-scoring drive that chewed up more than eight minutes and was punctuated by a 23-yard touchdown pass from Holt Keeling to Austin Abernathy to put the Panthers back in front 21-14.
“We knew they were going to do it, but they kept pounding on us,” Britton said. “We had a few penalties that kept some of their drives alive and that hurt us. However, my hat is off to Southside. They came out and won this game.”
The Bearcats weren’t finished yet, though, tying the contest for the last time on a 9-yard screen pass from Glenn to Crider with 10:01 left in the game.
With the contest still squared at 21, the Panthers took possession at their own 2-yard line once again with less than six minutes remaining.
Five straight runs by Coker netted Southside three first downs out to the 41 before Hunter Armstrong took over the rushing reins. The sophomore carried the rock the next seven times, collecting 59 yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown from two yards out with 1:18 left on the scoreboard.
“I’m real proud of the kids,” Britton said. “We battled all the way to the end. Unfortunately for us, they got one more scoring play than we did.”
Glenn finished his final game as a Bearcat completing 13 of 25 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Crider fought for 67 offensive yards to go along with his pair of scores. Goodwin hauled in six catches for 132 yards as well.
Coker, meanwhile, continued to build on his potential “B of the Year” campaign, toting the ball 38 times for 193 yards. Drake added 87 on the ground on 14 carries, while Armstrong finished with 67 in the win.
Although the season has officially come to a close, Britton said he couldn’t be more proud of how his team played and responded throughout a tough campaign.
“They’ve been great, especially the seniors,” the longtime coach said. “They’ve all given 100-percent effort and shown 100-percent class. I know our community is really proud of them. They battled, and I couldn’t be any prouder.”
The Times’ Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey @cullmantimes.com