RUSSELLVILLE — Russellville’s had played too well for too long to blow it at the end. At least that’s how defensive end Chris Hill saw it.
In a game that the Golden Tigers’ offense managed 116 yards and six first downs, the defense propped up its counterparts all night Friday against Hartselle.
When Russellville found itself with a lead for the first time in the final minutes, its defense stepped up one last time.
Hill came off the edge, sacked quarterback Deacon Aldridge and forced a fumble that Jalen Scott recovered with 45 seconds left to preserve a 6-3 win.
It was the fourth turnover for Hartselle, which lost three of its four fumbles on its final three possessions. Its drives inside the Russellville 20-yard line four times but managed only a field goal.
That came on a 28-yard field goal by John Waterman with 51 seconds left in the first half to cap a seven-play, 38-yard drive.
Hartselle kept a 3-0 lead nearly the rest of the way, but couldn’t capitalize on a Russellville lost fumble at its own 21 to start the second half.
Hartselle’s only punt came in the first half and its five second-half possessions ended by a turnover on downs at the Russellville 34; turnover on downs at the Russellville 30; fumble at the Russellville 15; fumble at its own 41; and fumble at Russellville 18.
Austin Kitterman recovered the first of the final three fumbles for Russellville, while Scott recovered the final two.
Russellville’s only score came on fourth-and-4 with 2:11 to play. The Golden Tigers lined up for the crucial play before coach Michael Jackson called his second timeout.
Quarterback Landon Smothers then hit C.J. Posey on a slant route that went 40 yards for a touchdown.
The extra-point kick missed, but the defense made the lead stand up, denying Hartselle on its final 11-play, 47-yard drive in the final 2:03 before running out the clock with a kneel-down.
Hartselle, Cullman and Russellville each have clinched playoff spots but are all tied for second in Class 5A, Region 8.
Next week’s non-region games will determine the final pecking order, with Hartselle’s game against Austin looming large.
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