CULLMAN, Alabama -- Ninth-ranked Hartselle scored three touchdowns in the first half as they beat Cullman 34-3 in a Class 6A, Region 7 game at the Oliver Woodard Stadium Friday night. Hartselle took a 24-0 halftime lead, and the Tigers defense played lights out for most of the game.
Hartselle (3-0, 1-0) dominated the game from the beginning. The Tigers used a balanced attack for much of the game. "Played well early but slowed down in the third quarter," said Tigers head coach Bryan Moore. "We finished strong, proud of our team to get the win against our rival. I thought our defense did a great job tonight. To hold them to three. We gave up some drives but forced three field goals, so you have to be proud of that."
Hartselle started the scoring with 9:24 left in the first quarter when Ri Fletcher scored on a 10-yard touchdown run. Kickout blocks by linemen Colton Stinson and Benjamin Arp created a hole for Fletcher, and the Tigers scored. A Landon Blackwood reception from quarterback Jack Smith set up the Tigers touchdown deep into Bearcats territory.
Hartselle scored on their second possession with 4:21 left in the first quarter, and Ri Fletcher scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Another Blackwood reception and a long Ri Fletcher run set up the Tigers score. Hartselle led 14-0 late in the first quarter with the touchdown. "We had the great punt return that set the tone for us, and it got us going," said Tigers QB Smith. "We came out of halftime a little down since we were up big, but we responded in the fourth quarter. Ri gave us a big lift with his long run. That is the type of player he is for us."
With 7:08 left in the second quarter, Crawford Lang kicked a 35-yard field goal, and the Tigers led 17-0. A Zay Fletcher and Eli Tidwell reception set up the Tigers field goal. With 3:29 left in half, Ri Fletcher scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. A Tidwell and a Noah Lee reception took the ball deep down in Cullman territory to set up the Hartselle score before the half. Cullman made a push down the field but was turned away on a Peyton Steele interception right before halftime. "We are the grittiest team in the state so far," said Tigers DB Steele. "We are always going to hustle to the ball and give 100 percent on every play. I have my brother's back, and they have mine. Were family. We prepared for the option all week and had good practice. We put in a lot of prep time for this game. We're excited about the win, but it is just the first step. We want a state championship."
Cullman looked like a different team in the second half as they started to move the ball down the field. With 7:49 left in the third quarter, Nate Zills kicked a 50-yard field goal, and Cullman got their first game points. Fullback Evan Dye and quarterback Ryan Skinner made plays on setting the Cullman first score. Both defenses locked in during the third quarter, and it was a 24-3 game going into the final quarter. "We came out tentative in the first half," said Bearcats head coach Oscar Glasscock. "We were worried about making mistakes instead of just playing. I thought we played better in the second half, especially on defense. Hartselle is as good as I saw. They are going to be a team to contend with in the north.
Cullman took a little momentum after the big field goal by Zills. The Cullman defense forced a punt, and the Bearcats were on the move. Runs by Tyler Owens and Dye and a Zills reception put the Bearcats in good field position but missed a short field goal. Hartselle took over, and with 8:13 left in the game, Ri Fletcher went 80-yards for a touchdown, and Hartselle went up 31-3. With 2:13 left in the game, Lang kicked his second field goal with a 35-yarder, and Hartselle led 34-3.
Next, Hartselle will host Columbia, while Cullman will host Decatur in a critical region matchup.