PELL CITY — The Austin Black Bears left Pete Rich Stadium on Friday night unsatisfied and devastated after another first-round playoff loss.
Dropped passes and fumbles at inopportune times, missed opportunities and a missed field goal spelled a 20-13 loss to Pell City, and the tears that come with a season ended early for the Black Bears.
"When we go back and look at the film, we'll see all kinds of missed opportunities," Austin star tailback Josh Walker said.
Walker said the loss is particularly disappointing because they thought they would make a deep march into the playoffs.
"We expected to go deep," Walker said. "We didn't expect to go out in the first round."
These expectations show how far Austin (8-3) has come under third-year coach Jeremy Perkins.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Perkins said. "Our seniors were great leaders.
They were dedicated to football and come to play every game. I'm proud of how we fought all year long."
The late-arriving Austin band and students, caught in a traffic jam on the way to Pell City, missed most of the early scoring in a wild first quarter.
Pell City (7-4) fumbled a pop-up kick to open the game and the Bears' Quincy Davis recovered at the Panther 37-yard line. Austin missed a 40-yard field goal, however, and let the opportunity slipped by.
Pell City answered with a quick eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Ira Burch's 4-yard touchdown run.
Austin replied with a two-minute, 72-yard drive. Walker's 6-yard scoring run and Phillip Corlew's extra point tied at the game at 7 with 3:36 left.
Austin couldn't slow Pell City on its next drive.
Burch raced 10 yards for his second touchdown to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead with six seconds left in the first quarter.
The next two quarters were filled with missed opportunities for both teams. Defensive end Tobias Payne intercepted a pass to spoil one Pell City threat at the Austin 24.
Austin followed with a drive but fumbled on the PC 26. Pell City missed a field goal attempt on its next drive.
The Black Bears put together a 14-play drive behind Walker's running, but an incomplete pass on fourth down at the Panther 8 ended the opportunity to tie with 4:54 left.
Austin got the ball near midfield on its next drive. An incomplete pass on third down had Austin fans screaming for an interference call that never came. Perkins chose to go for it on fourth down, but another incomplete pass gave Pell City the ball on the Austin 49.
The Black Bears defense began selling out to stop the Panthers and the clock, but fullback Demaurian Wills rambled for a 46-yard touchdown run that would seal the Pell City win with 1:45 left. The extra point was no good.
Austin didn’t give up. Quarterback Chris Sparkman led the Bears in the hurry-up offense, but 11 plays ate up the clock. A receiver dropped a pass in the end zone with 40 seconds left. Sparkman finally hit Malique Elliott with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 19.9 seconds remaining. The snap was mishandled on the point-after attempt, so the Black Bears were seven points down.
Austin tried an onside kick, but Burch caught the high bounce to seal the Pell City win.
The 7-4 Panthers advance to play Hoover next week in the second round of the playoffs.
Here are the results of the AHSAA first-round football playoffs involving area teams.
Pell City 20, Austin 13
Clay-Chalkville 45, Decatur 14
Hartselle 14, Fort Payne 6
Tanner 55, Sand Rock 0
R.A. Hubbard 18, Collinsville 15
Pickens County 63, Falkville 0
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