Golden Tigers earn spot in state championship game for first time since 2004
Russellville High School is one step closer to winning the state football title that has eluded it since the 1968 season with its 28-19 victory against Cullman Friday in the state semifinals.
The only thing standing between the Golden Tigers and the championship is an undefeated Vigor team.
"Not bad for a team that was supposed to win about four games," said Russellville coach Doug Goodwin referring to the fans that doubted the talent of his team heading into this season.
The Golden Tigers fell behind early as Cullman took the opening drive 65 yards and scored on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Randy Caldwell to Zachary Horn.
Russellville only picked up 21 yards on its opening drive and was forced to punt the ball back to the Bearcats.
The Golden Tiger defense stopped Cullman in Bearcat territory on the ensuing drive. Cullman punted, but it was a short kick and the Golden Tiger offense was back in business at the Cullman 42-yard line.
On the second play of the drive, Russellville quarterback Joey Howe found Jake Ward streaking down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown pass. Jose Betancourt added the extra point – which was kicked from the 20-yard line following a pair of Russellville penalties – to tie the game 7-7.
Russellville's next possession was not quite as successful. The Golden Tigers fumbled and Cullman recovered near midfield. The Bearcats began an eight-play drive that culminated in a 6-yard scoring pass from Caldwell to Drew Forrest, but the extra point was no good.
On the ensuing possession Russellville fumbled on its first play and Cullman recovered again. This time, the Bearcats began their drive at the Golden Tiger 31.
The Russellville defense stopped the Cullman threat and got the ball back after Cullman failed to convert at fourth-down play.
Russellville reached midfield, but was forced to punt when the drive stalled.
Cullman go the ball at its own 21-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the nine. The Bearcats reached their own 17 before their drive fizzled.
Facing fourth-and-15 Caldwell lined up to punt, but audibled to a fake punt. He completed an 11-yard pass, but the receiver was tackled before he could pick up the first down and Russellville took over at the Cullman 28.
"We sort of baited them into (the fake)," Goodwin said. "We showed them something that was not there."
Seven plays later Russellville took the lead when Mario Roman scored on a 1-yard run with 3:06 remaining in the first half. Betancourt's point after kick was good to give Russellville a 14-13 advantage.
The Golden Tigers padded the lead a few minutes later when Brent Calloway broke loose on a 75-yard touchdown run with eight seconds remaining in the half. Betancourt added the extra point to push the lead to 21-14 at halftime.
"We decided to take a chance and run the ball," Goodwin said. "(The play) was blocked perfectly at the line."
The Golden Tigers added another touchdown when Howe hit Ward for a 25-yard pass on the opening drive of the second half.
Cullman advanced to the Russellville 32 on the following drive, but the offense ran out of gas and turned the ball over on downs.
Russellville was unable to do anything on offense and was forced to punt.
Cullman took over at midfield and moved to the Golden Tiger 13, but Darrian Graham picked off a Caldwell pass in the end zone after two other Russellville players tipped the ball.
The Bearcats were finally able to reach the end zone with 6:47 remaining in the game as Caldwell hit Patrick Stewart for a 40-yard touchdown pass. The Russellville defense batted down the two-point pass to preserve a 28-19 lead.
Cullman got another possession with 1:33 remaining and drove 32 yards before Graham intercepted his second pass of the game for the Golden Tigers with eight seconds to play, sealing the win.
With the win, Russellville advances to the state championship game for the third time this decade and the first time since 2004.
Goodwin is also making his first trip back to the finals since 2004 when he led Demopolis to the Class 4A title.