HARTSELLE — Friday night’s Class 6A Region 7 game between Hartselle and visiting Muscle Shoals came down to first-half opportunities.
Muscle Shoals jumped on its opportunities. Hartselle not only didn’t capitalize on its opportunities but contributed to the Trojans’ success. The result was a 28-point halftime lead for Muscle Shoals in what eventually ended with a 35-14 victory for the unbeaten Trojans.
“Obviously, in the first half we got our chances,” said first-year Hartselle head coach Bo Culver. “Look, they made good football plays, they’re a good football team.”
Hartselle looked crisp on the first play, with quarterback Cal George connecting with Ian Bodine for a 29-yard gain. After a defensive offside penalty, Muscle Shoals linebacker Malik Smith sacked George, and the Hartselle quarterback fumbled. The Trojans recovered on the Tigers' 44-yard line and capitalized six plays later with a 6-yard scoring toss from Logan Smothers to Michael McIntosh.
“Anytime you can get a turnover and put points on the board, it always helps,” said Muscle Shoals head coach Scott Basden, whose team had five sacks, including two by Smith. “It’s something you work on. I just thought our guys were focused and played really well.”
Muscle Shoals (4-0 overall, 2-0 Region 7) scored again with 2:52 left in the first quarter, when quarterback Logan Smothers cruised in from 13 yards out. The touchdown, which gave Muscle Shoals a 14-0 lead, was set up by a 46-yard run by Smothers.
Hartselle had its chances to cut into the deficit late in the first half. The first opportunity came at the end of a seven-play drive that included three first downs. The drive eventually bogged down, and a 47-yard field goal attempt just missed, hitting the crossbar. Muscle Shoals answered with a four-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Smothers to Ty Smith.
The Tigers (1-3 overall, 0-2 Region 7) moved back down the field, eventually getting a first-and-10 at the Muscle Shoals 18-yard line. On second down, Muscle Shoals linebacker Jackson Bratton dropped into coverage and got his hand on a George pass. The deflection landed in the hands of Muscle Shoals safety Aiden Gay, who made his way to the sideline and used several key blocks to finish a 87-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Muscle Shoals built the lead to 35-0 on its second possession of the second half when Smothers and McIntosh connected on a 36-yard touchdown pass. Smothers was pretty much done after that, finishing with 105 yards rushing on 11 carries and 10 of 13 passing for 166 yards.
“That sort of took the wind out of them, I guess you could say,” Basden said of the scores late in the first half and early in the second half. “At that point, you try in those situations not to key some key players hurt and try to play the young guys.”
Hartselle wasn’t interested in moral victories, but Culver was proud of the way his team competed in the second half. Hartselle linebacker Ryan Langston followed an interception of backup quarterback Luke Peoples with a 20-yard return to the Trojans' 2-yard line. George scored on a 2-yard keeper on the next play.
The final score came with 1:29 left when running back Brinten Barclay burst 20 yards into the end zone.
“I’m proud of the effort our guys showed. I’m proud of the fight we showed,” Culver said. “We’ve had some tough losses. There is no moral victories, but, if we continue to compete, if we continue to get better, if we continue to grow up, we’re still a good football team. We just got to know that and believe it.”