In a Class 6A, Region 7 matchup, #9 Hartselle will play Cullman in Woodard Stadium Friday night. These teams won their first two non-region games, and someone will take an early lead in region play. Hartselle has wins over 7A Austin (45-17) and Jackson-Olin (39-6), while Cullman defeated 3A Mars Hill (13-10) and Jasper (42-21).
Last season, Hartselle had a tough matchup with Gardendale in the first round of the playoffs, lost a close 35-28 contest, and looks to make a deeper run this season. "We have handled business the way we should; we have played pretty well in all three phases of the game," said Tigers head coach Bryan Moore. "We had a few bumps in the road, but for the most part, we have played clean and taken care of the ball. We have run the ball effectively and have stopped the run."
Hartselle is coming into the game with one of the best quarterbacks in Class 6A. Jack Smith had two big games to start the season, and he looks to continue that hot hand. "This could not have happened to a better guy," added Moore. "He has been great. He waited his time to learn the offense and has played great these past two games. Jack is playing with a lot of confidence and understands the offense. He is a great teammate and has flourished in his leadership role. The other players look up to him." For the season, the senior quarterback has completed 41-of-56 passes for 512 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception.
The running back position has talent. Ri Fletcher can go with the best of them. Lincoln Bryant and freshman Jayden Morris will get carries with Smith and Fletcher in this game. "Ri is a special back that is healthy this year," said Moore. "He played well in the back stretch of the season last year. He can run between the tackles. He is heavier, stronger, and is having a special season." Ri Fletcher has 195 yards on 27 carries, two touchdowns, 73 yards on nine receptions, and a touchdown.
At the receiver position, the Tigers have four-year starter Zay Fletcher, along with Eil Tidwell, Landon Blackwell, and Noah Lee. Zay Fletcher has offers from South Florida, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, North Alabama, Florida Atlantic, and Samford. For the season, Zay Fletcher has 115 yards on 14 receptions.
The offensive line has improved since the Austin game. "I thought our kids did pretty good against a big defensive line in JO last week," added Moore. "As the game wore on, the holes got bigger, so that was a good sign as we rushed for over 200 yards." Center Tyde Witt has been the leader of the group. "Tyde is a three-year starter and has grown in that role," said Moore. "He has been a very consistent player for us. He is definitely the leader of the group." Also, Carter Kodra, Ryan Aymett, Andrew Crittenden, Edward Ellis, and Colton Stinson see playing time for the Tigers.
The Tigers defense has only given up 23 points in those first two games. "The defense has improved but has a way to go," said Moore. "We have some new faces over there that are developing. I love our scheme, and we had six takeaways against Jackson-Olin. We were tackling better against JO, than Austin. We are keeping away from the big play."
The Green brothers anchor the defensive line spot as both are three-year starters. "Dalton plays on the nose and has played with me since '20," said Moore. "He has been there every game since. Dylan is more of an end. A little bit different in their game. Both have done an excellent job of anchoring in that front line. It was tough sledding early, but they are so much better as seniors." Porter Simmons gets playing time at the other end position.
Linebackers Jake Haynes, Treyce Oden, and Kaden Worley are essential for stopping opposing run games and will play a big part against the Cullman option game. The secondary of Jakaleb Goodwin, Peyton Steele, Jake England, Hudson Buckelew, Drake Borden, Walker Hoyle, and Isaac Nicholson get playing time. "Walker is our rover and gets us in and out of stuff," said Moore. "He played corner last season. He will make calls and does a lot of the talking and communicating for us."
Cullman is another team that made it to the postseason last year but was eliminated after the first round to a loss to Jackson-Olin. The Bearcats look to get back into the 2022 playoffs but are in a competitive region this season. A good start, though, to the season so far for Cullman. "We have extreme character kids with good leadership," said Bearcats head coach Oscar Glasscock. "We are playing hard. Our culture is excellent, and it is a reflection of the senior class."
Starting quarterback Ryan Skinner leads the Cullman offense this season. "Ryan has been steady on protecting the football," added Glasscock. "He works hard in practice and is a leader. He takes the trash out without being asked. He does the little things like that. He has bought into the program, and that is the main thing. That is how he shows his leadership. What a great kid and a joy to have around. We are more multiple with him in the passing game. We have worked hard to do things to fit his talents on offense."
With Cullman running the option, you better have a couple of big fullbacks, which is what the Bearcats have in Evan Dye and Pat Adcock. Both play on the defensive line and alternate series on offense. "One thing we have learned running this offense is the fullbacks take a pounding," said Glasscock. "We decided to get bigger guys back there." Tyler Owens can make the big play if he gets to the second level with his explosive running style.
The Bearcats wide receivers have to do multiple things in this option offense. They need to be good blockers, along with catching passes. Nate Zills, Nick Holland, LJ Turner, and Reid Bradberry can do that. Zills has an offer from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. "Nate has worked hard and is very competitive," said Glasscock. "Winning and losing means a lot to me, and he brings it to the team—a very hard worker. Nate is the first one here and the last to leave. He studies the game and wants to get into coaching one day. Great kid to have around and a great leader for the team."
The offensive line play of Jarrod Shelton, Carter Ziegenbein, Pierce Bartle, Jackson Bentley, and Drew Carter has played well in the first two games of the season. "Drew is our veteran and has been in the fire," added Glasscock. "No game is too big for him or eye-opening because he has been there. Pierce has been outstanding at the center these first two games," said Glasscock. "He plays hard, at a low pad level, and is very strong in the weight room. Carter battled injuries during the first part of his career, but things are coming together this year. He is a very smart player. Jerry has a lot of size and ability. Jackson brings a lot of athleticism and physicalness to the tackle position. Just looking at him, you wouldn't think he was one of our strongest guys in the weight room until he hits you." The Bearcats are replacing four out of five seniors on the offensive line from last year.
The Cullman defense has only given up 31 points in their first two games and will need an exceptional effort against this high-powered Hartselle offense. The defensive line has played a big part in the Bearcats success. Defensive end Ben Washburn, defensive end Beckett Calvert and nose guard Sam Mayhair lead the way on defense. "Ben is tough to block," said Glasscock. "He has a boxing background and uses his hands extremely well with a quick first step. He is a hustler."
Linebackers Elijah Hayes, Pat Elkins, Carson Starnes, and Tanner Gaines must play big against the Hartselle run game. "Pat is having a great start to the year," added Glasscock. "Plays with a lot of speed and emotion. Winning means a lot to Pat. Leader on the team and in the school as well. Provides a lot of steadiness." Gaines can find the football all over the field. He can play about anywhere on the field. He is an athlete with the "it" factor.
The secondary has Sawyer Trimble, Jackson Sessions, Garrett Hall, and Trenton Clemons. "Sawyer is steady and is one of our smartest players," said Glasscock. "He tells people where to line up and can anticipate plays."
This is going to be an excellent region game. Can Cullman control the ball to keep the high-powered Hartselle offense off the field? Can Cullman keep the game close going into the fourth quarter? We will see soon enough.