A last-minute 13-10 Cullman win played backseat to an on-field brawl Friday night, as the Bearcats’ bitter rivalry with Walker literally came to blows at Ki-Ro Gambrell Field.
Moments after the Black and Gold rushed the field to celebrate their comeback victory, a full-fledged fight erupted involving coaches and players from both teams. Cullman defensive coordinator Matt Hopper could be seen emerging from the scrum with multiple bruises, cuts and blood running down his face.
As the scene slowly began to settle, the Bearcat players were urged to run straight to the visitor’s locker room, where they remained as administrators coordinated with local police to find an alternate exit from the stadium.
Cullman’s coaches did not wish to speak to the media following the wild chain of events and did not make their players available.
The chaotic aftermath put a damper on a truly remarkable comeback effort by the Bearcats, who erased a 10-0 deficit at the end of the third quarter with a pair of scores in the final frame.
Tyler Glenn scampered six yards for the go-ahead score with 18 seconds remaining to send the Cullman sideline and its faithful fans into a frenzy.
The senior signal-caller was 6 of 10 on the final drive for 48 yards, including two connections with Mason Jones (12, 10) and one apiece with Seth Donaldson (14), Maison Goodwin (nine) and Auston Neal (five). Jones’ 10-yard reception came on fourth-and-10 and gave the Bearcats just enough to set up first-and-goal at the Viking 5.
An interception by senior defensive back Trey Moon on the very first play of the fourth quarter was all it took for the Black and Gold to put the first three frames, which were often sloppy, penalty-heavy and mistake-prone, behind them.
From there, Cullman set up shop at its own 22-yard line and proceeded to march deep into Walker territory, ultimately capping off a nine-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Glenn to Joseph Gable, who also had a sack in the second quarter.
Senior running back Garrett Crider was an absolute workhorse on the Bearcats’ first scoring drive, rushing five times for 30 yards, including a momentum-changing 25-yard carry and a gutsy 2-yard tote on fourth-and-2 that gave the Black and Gold fresh set of downs inside the Viking 10. Cullman was aided on the possession by back-to-back Walker penalties totaling 20 yards immediately after Crider’s 25-yard rush.
Following the score, the Bearcats surprised the Vikings with an onside kick, which bounced off a Walker player and was recovered by Justin Patterson at midfield. The ensuing drive looked promising when running back Will Crenshaw fought off contact in the backfield and barreled forward for a 4-yard carry on fourth-and-4, but it ultimately ended with a turnover on downs.
Crider finished with 98 yards, 76 of which came in the second half, on 24 carries. Glenn was 21 of 36 for 141 yards through the air. Goodwin was the Bearcats’ top receiver with seven catches for 54 yards. Jones was close behind with six for 44 yards. Linebacker Lucas McMinn had his hand in too many tackles to count.
The Vikings took the lead 2:12 into the game with a 33-yard field goal by John Crump Jr. and held onto it until Glenn’s go-ahead touchdown with 18 seconds remaining. A 38-yard pass-and-catch between Bryant Atkins and Keony Abrom put Walker in position for the three-point play.
The Black and Gold ended their third and fifth drives on fumbles. The second was the first play of the possession, giving the Vikings the ball at the Cullman 15. A few penalties by both teams and a 21-yard catch by Kevin Clay Jr. to set Walker up at the 1 later, the Vikings capitalized with a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Atkins.
The Cullman-Walker brouhaha was not all that surprising considering the bad blood that has risen between the rival programs in recent years. Just last season, the Bearcats defeated the Vikings twice, including a 30-0 shutout in the playoffs. The postseason blowout was punctuated by a near brawl late in the fourth quarter, which led to the Black and Gold avoiding a midfield meeting and sprinting straight to the locker room.
The season-opening victory was Cullman’s ninth in a row dating back to 2005. Of 13th-year coach Mark Britton’s now-106 wins with the program, which ties him with Oliver Woodard as the school’s all-time winningest football coaches, a whopping nine have come against Walker.
Britton’s first opportunity to overtake Woodard will come next Friday at home against region-rival East Limestone.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.