FORT PAYNE — Bo Culver's first season as Hartselle's head football coach came to an end Friday night with a 24-17 loss to Fort Payne in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.
If Culver's coaching record is any indication of what's in store for Hartselle's future, Tiger fans have plenty to be excited about.
"I think greatness is in front of us," Culver said. "We started out this year with an inexperienced group, and they've grown up a bunch. We've got a lot of seniors who love Hartselle football, who have led us this year and shown us how to fight. This second half is what I hope people understand about this team. We may not always be the most talented, but, man, we fought."
Trailing 17-3 after two quarters, Culver's squad rallied to tie the game at 17-17 with six minutes to play when Cal George connected with Izayah Fletcher on a touchdown pass and then found Jayce Dubose in the end zone on the 2-point conversion.
Fort Payne went ahead 24-17 on Hunter Love's third rushing touchdown of the game with 1:48 to play in regulation. Hartselle got the ball with a chance to drive for a tie or win, but the Tigers turned the ball over on downs, and Fort Payne ran out the clock.
"We came out in the second half and challenged our guys to fight and get after it," Culver said. "We came up a couple of plays short there, but I couldn't be more proud of these kids and our coaching staff."
Fort Payne got on the board first, taking a 7-0 lead with Love's first touchdown run early in the first quarter. A 26-yard field goal by Hartselle kicker Crawford Lang trimmed Fort Payne's lead to 7-3, but Love added a second touchdown run to give Fort Payne a 14-3 lead after one quarter.
After exchanging punts and turnovers, Fort Payne extended its lead to 17-3 on a 26-yard field goal by Alex McPherson late in the second quarter.
Lang hit a 39-yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-6 midway through the third and added a 32-yard kick early in the fourth to cut Fort Payne's advantage to 17-9, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
Hartselle ends the season with a record of 4-7, but the future is bright. As head coach at Deshler, Culver led that team to a 7-4 record in his first season before advancing to the Class 4A state championship game in his second year.
"I love this place. I love this community," Culver said. "What I can promise you guys every day is that you are going to get 100 percent of Bo Culver. I'm going to bust my tail for these kids because I love them."