Scrambling around, trying to buy time, Deacon Alrdidge did his best to find a hole in Austin High’s defense.
The only problem? There wasn’t one.
Aldridge’s last throw at the end zone bounced off the turf, and everyone on the Austin sideline stormed the field.
The comeback was complete. Austin erased a 20-point deficit in the second half, rallying back to beat rival Hartselle 34-27 in two overtimes Thursday.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of exciting games, but this one, it’s up there,” Austin coach Jeremy Perkins said.
Thrill and exhilaration were present in the Austin locker room during the postgame.
But for Hartselle? Disappointment showed. The non-region rivalry meant more than just bragging rights this year. Playoff seeding was at stake.
The loss drops Hartselle (6-4) to the No. 4 seed in Class 5A, Region 8, which means the Tigers travel to third-ranked Fort Payne next week for the Class 5A playoffs’ opening round. Austin (8-2) opens the 6A playoffs at Pell City.
“We’ll get it fixed,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said as he walked off the field.
Hartselle had its chances to win. The Tigers dominated the first half, racing out to a 20-0 lead on two D’Andre Mack rushing touchdowns and a scoring pass from Aldridge to Nicholas Beach.
But momentum shifted after halftime. Josh Walker scored on a 46-yard run, and Austin rode the energy to a thrilling finish.
“Our seniors said some things at halftime, pretty much challenging everybody to come out like a different team,” Walker said. “We were making a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball, just not playing very well. We weren’t going down without a fight.”
Chris Sparkman pulled Austin within 20-13 early in the fourth quarter with a 4-yard run, and Austin got multiple opportunities to tie the game late because of Hartselle turnovers.
Hartselle lost a fumble on the Austin 17 with about four minutes remaining in regulation.
The Tigers turned the ball over again on the their 9-yard line with 46.9 seconds remaining — two plays after a Hartselle goal-line stand forced Austin to turn the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line.
Austin didn’t squander the reprieve. Walker caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Sparkman, and he scored on runs of 5 and 10 yards in overtime.
Walker finished with 198 total yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 146 yards.
“This was a big win, and it’s going to carry over into the playoffs,” Walker said. “We’ve been kind of a little bit of a slump, but pulling this off, that’s going to help us move past that. Now we’re ready for the playoffs.”
“I think it can give us momentum heading into the playoffs,” he said. “That’s something you always want.
“I know that tonight, our guys never stopped fighting. It’s a special win for our players.”
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