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Hartselle rallies from 14 points down to deal RHS first loss

The Russellville football team stepped outside of region play and welcomed the 6A Hartselle Tigers to town Friday night – and the Golden Tigers suffered their first loss of the 2020 season.

Things were going as planned for RHS early on, as the team built a 14-0 first-half lead, but Hartselle roared back with 38 unanswered points to get the win, 38-14.

Russellville’s one-two punch at the running back position, Boots McCulloch and Caleb Mathews, has been quite productive so far this season, and the duo had the team moving down the field on the first drive of the game with the help of quarterback Conner Warhurst. On the seventh-straight running play of the first possession, McCulloch came up just short of crossing the goal line, according to the officials, on a fourth-and-goal carry from inside the 5-yard line.

McCulloch landed hard on the turf, suffered an elbow injury and was out for the rest of the game.

The Russellville defense forced a Hartselle punt a few plays later, and the Golden Tigers got a Warhurst run to get things moving in the right direction again. Caleb Mathews carried the load the rest of the way on the drive, except for a 12-yard pass from Warhurst to TJ King. Matthews got the first touchdown of the game on a 16-yard run with 3:37 to go in the opening quarter, and Cristhian Cano added the PAT kick to put the Golden Tigers up 7-0.

HHS attempted to answer on their next possession, but a nine-play drive ended on the first play of the second quarter when Russellville’s Ashaad Williams covered his man and made a great play on the ball in the end zone for an interception. RHS quarterback Gabe Amick then put together a drive that lasted 10 plays but ended with a punt.

Hartselle then moved the ball into Russellville territory, but a 44-yard field goal attempt by the Tigers came up short and was no good. Later, the two teams traded punts, and King took the Hartselle kick back for a long return to set the RHS offense up for its next score.

With 1:23 remaining in the first half, Caleb Mathews scored his second TD of the night, this time on an eight-yard run to the end zone. The extra point kick put the Golden Tigers up 14-0.

Penalties and the Hartselle passing attack hurt RHS just before the half, and the opposing Tigers scored their first touchdown of the night with 14 seconds remaining on a 15-yard pass play to make the score 14-7 at the break.

The second half was all Hartselle. The Tigers were able to slow the RHS offense and create turnovers, including an interception for a touchdown, while the HHS offense scored on runs of 10 and seven yards and also on a pass that covered 85 yards. Throw in a 37-yard field goal, and the result was a win for Hartselle and a loss for Russellville that dropped the Golden Tigers’ record to 5-1 on the season.

Looking ahead, Russellville will be trying to regain some consistency.

“We’ve just got to execute,” said Russellville head coach John Ritter. “We’ve got to execute at a high level all of the time.

“We’re not talented enough to miss assignments; we’re not talented enough to take bad drops; but when we do our job, we have the potential to be a really, really good football team.

“The key for us moving forward is to make sure we do our job on every snap.”

The Golden Tigers will have an opportunity to get back on the winning track this Friday night with an important contest at Ardmore as the region race will begin to take shape in the second half of the season.

“Everything we want to do is still in front of us. We have a chance to win the region championship and be the  first seed, and that’s the goal,” Ritter said. “Losing to Hartselle has nothing to do with that goal.”

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