By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Brontae Harris wasn’t about to let Winston County waltz into Hanceville’s house on homecoming night and come away with a victory.
Following an injury to senior running back Torrey Green on the first play from scrimmage, the speedster knew he would have to take on a bigger role in the backfield if he and his Bulldog teammates wanted to escape with a win on Friday.
Not only did Harris win the part — he absolutely nailed it.
The fleet-footed junior carried the ball 23 times for 238 yards and five touchdowns, as Hanceville survived a gusty effort from the Yellow Jackets in a thrilling 41-36 victory.
“I knew that I would have to step up knowing that Torrey got hurt,” Harris said. “I knew I had to make big plays for him. Somebody had to step up, and I just happened to do it.”
Added Bulldog coach Danny Miller: “When someone goes down, somebody else got to step up. Brontae had a heck of a game. We told him it was going to be on his shoulders. He stepped it up and did what we asked him to do.”
The Purple and Gold (6-1, 4-1 in Class 3A, Region 7) raced out to a 22-7 halftime lead on the back on three touchdowns runs — 2, 31 and 34 yards — from Harris, while holding Winston County (3-4, 2-3) to just 118 total yards.
However, the Yellow Jackets weren’t about to be turned away so easily. They shredded Hanceville’s defense for three scores on their first three possessions of the third stanza, including long runs of 39 and 53 yards from junior tailback Cody Henderson. A 2-yard scamper from Quinton Pagay late in the quarter gave Winston County its first lead at 28-22.
“We thought they might do that,” Miller said. “We had some trouble moving the ball. They just outplayed us in the third quarter. Give them some credit. Those guys got after our butts. Played as well as I've seen them play in a while. They brought it and fought us all the way.”
Added Harris: “We had to keep our composure. Everybody had their heads down, and I told them to keep them up because we had a lot of time left to win this game. We got to come out and play. We came back and got the win.”
The tide turned for Hanceville with about two minutes left in the third, as sophomore cornerback Jose Orozco picked off a Timber Blankenship pass in his own end zone and returned it 40 yards to put a stop to a potential Yellow Jacket scoring drive.
Nine plays later, the Bulldogs tied the game at 28 apiece on a 5-yard scoring scamper from Zack Cooper.
Although Hanceville’s D wasn’t at its best on Friday, it made the plays when needed — especially in the fourth quarter — allowing just 32 total yards, while securing a couple of sacks and a game-saving interception from Dant’e Reese.
Harris went on to add his final score of the game — a 43-yard, untouched burst up the middle — to secure the win for the Bulldogs heading into next week’s matchup with Danville.
“We fussed at them a lot, but I'm proud,” Miller said of his team’s win. “They did what they had to do. It says something about our team that we can make some mistakes like we did tonight and still come out a winner.”
Hanceville ended up with 396 rushing yards on the evening, with Carlos Chacon contributing 85 of those on 13 carries to help out Harris. Cooper added 73 yards of his own on nine totes.
With just two region games left on the docket, Miller knows his team has its fate in its hands, as they draw ever closer to securing a first-round, home playoff game in November.
“We need to stay in a position to control things and not have to depend on someone else,” the coach said. “If we still have a three-way tie, we'll thrash it out. We are just focused on us.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.