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November 14, 2013

PREP FOOTBALL: Bearcats embrace season’s knack for close contests

CULLMAN — Cullman’s flair for the dramatic hasn’t exactly done wonders for Mark Britton’s blood pressure.

While the longtime coach might look the same on the outside, he’s no doubt aged a year or two under the surface thanks in large part to the Bearcats’ run of exciting finishes this season.

Of Cullman’s eight victories, four have been decided by eight points or less late with three coming down to the final minute.

“It's definitely exciting,” Britton said. “We work the two-minute drill every day in practice. I don't know if we've used it in any one season as much as we have this year. I don't know if our concentration goes up or what,  but when we've needed it, we've been able to use it well.”

The Walker game seemed to set the stage for the Black and Gold in regard to how 2013 was going to unfold, as they erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter — quarterback Tyler Glenn scored from six yards out with 18 seconds left in the game — to escape with a 13-10 triumph.

Three weeks later, Cullman picked up a crucial region win over bitter-rival Hartselle, scoring a late insurance touchdown on a 46-yard double-pass from Glenn to backup quarterback Ross Crocker to running back Will Crenshaw in the final quarter to hang on to a 14-6 victory.

However, it didn’t start to get wild for Britton’s squad until late in the season against Athens and, more recently, Moody.

Trailing the Golden Eagles 13-10 with 2:37 left on the clock, the Bearcat offense marched 69 yards — barely converting a fourth-and-12 along the way — before offensive coordinator Kenny Gleaton dialed up another unconventional pass which allowed senior wide receiver Auston Neal to complete a 7-yard touchdown strike to Glenn to secure a 16-13 win, as well as  first-round hosting rights in the playoffs.

That brings us to last Friday night when the Black and Gold saw themselves trailing 14-0 midway through the third quarter in their postseason contest with the Blue Devils.

 Most teams would panic in a similar situation. However, this year’s rendition of the Bearcats’ football team is a bit different from your ordinary squad.

Cullman proceeded to score 20 unanswered points, including a wild fumble recovery in the end zone by Neal as time expired to come away with a thrilling 20-14 victory.

For Neal, he couldn’t have asked for much more out of his senior season than what he’s been given.

“It's really more than I could have imagined,” he said. “I didn't play last year and realized I missed it too much, so I came back and just wanted to contribute any way I could and help us win. To be a part of what's gone on, it's been incredible.”

It’s been especially incredible for Neal, who’s been directly involved in securing two spectacular wins for his team. Like many of his teammates, he said he’d take a thrilling victory over a blowout every single time.

“Those are the wins you'll remember forever,” Neal said. “Twenty years down the road, I'll remember throwing that touchdown pass or recovering that fumble. Those blowouts are nice, but they don't mean as much as winning games like we have this year.”

Neal’s senior teammate, running back Garrett Crider, had a different — but altogether similar — outlook on the matter.

“I'd probably rather the games be a blowout,” he said with a smile. “But if you win those close games, it's more exciting. It gets the crowd pumped up and everything. I feel like it makes a lot more memories for us seniors.”

No matter the outcome of Friday night’s second-round contest at No. 4 Southside-Gadsden (11-0), it’s been quite the season for the Bearcats.

In fact, it’s been one of Britton’s favorite teams he’s had the privilege of coaching in his storied career.

“This group has been super enjoyable to coach,” he said. “They’re hard workers. No real stars. Just guys that come in and play extremely hard. We didn't play well against Walker, and I think about if people left that game thinking it was going to be a long season for us.

“But it goes back to their personalities. Overall, they're a scrappy bunch of fighters. They do whatever they can to compete and find an edge in a game. They’ve played pretty well under pressure. We are proud of them for that.”



% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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