Huffing and puffing, Lamont Crittendon couldn't catch his breath.
More than 10 minutes had passed since the final second ticked off the clock, but the Austin High linebacker's adrenaline still was racing out of control.
Understandable. Crittendon and the Austin defense had just put on a clinic, holding Hazel Green to 60 yards in the second half as the Class 6A No. 5 Black Bears overcame a sluggish start Friday night to pull away for a 23-13 Region 8 win.
"Our defense has come a long way," Crittendon said. "Getting better on that side of the ball has been a priority. We've taken a lot of pride in that, and you can see that we've made huge strides."
Austin's defense made its presence known.
With relentless pressure and several hard hits, the Black Bears (6-0, 4-0 in Region 8) consistently created chaos for Hazel Green quarterback Corey Collier — especially in the second half.
Austin sacked Collier for a 5-yard loss on the second play of the third quarter, and they got him again a few plays later, this time for an 18-yard loss.
The bullish play made gaining momentum nearly impossible for Hazel Green (4-2, 2-2). Collier finished with 66 yards on 5-of-15 passing with an interception, and he was sacked five times. The Trojans gained just 113 yards on the ground, with 42 coming in the second half.
Austin's defense has given up just one touchdown in the past two weeks. That came late in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard run from Hazel Green's Josh Burnett.
"Our defense has played well," Austin coach Jeremy Perkins said. "There are a lot of different guys who have stepped up for us on that side of the ball. They're starting to play up to their potential."
Austin's start was bumbling. A botched snap on the Black Bears' first possession gave Hazel Green a 7-0 lead.
But Austin regained its composure before halftime, and star running back Josh Walker began to piece together another strong performance.
Walker tied the score at 7-7 late in the second quarter with a 40-yard touchdown.
Walker struck again in the third quarter — a run that was a display of patience, nimble feet and explosive speed. The senior took the handoff, bounced to the outside, made two defenders miss and sprinted 84 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. He finished with 167 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
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