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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2006
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Athens wide receiver Jeremy Stinnett (7) congratulates Jacquez Pride (3) after Pride hauled in a touchdown pass in the third quarter to help the Golden Eagles defeat the Hartselle Tigers 23-13 in the Class 5A quarterfinals in Hartselle on Friday night. Athens will host J.O. Johnson on Friday in the semifinals.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Athens wide receiver Jeremy Stinnett (7) congratulates Jacquez Pride (3) after Pride hauled in a touchdown pass in the third quarter to help the Golden Eagles defeat the Hartselle Tigers 23-13 in the Class 5A quarterfinals in Hartselle on Friday night. Athens will host J.O. Johnson on Friday in the semifinals.

Tipped ball, magical win
Athens rallies past rival, moves to semifinals

By Brooke Milam
bmilam@decaturdaily.com· 340-2460

HARTSELLE — In many ways, Friday night’s quarterfinal game between Hartselle High and Athens looked like a typical night for both teams.

A packed J. P. Cain Stadium watched Hartselle thrive off its crowd’s energy and take an early lead like so many other times this season.

And in the end, Athens won 23-13 in typical Golden Eagles fashion with last-minute heroics.

Athens trailed until 1:54 left in the game when Dewon Tisdale rescued a tipped ball off the fingers of teammate Vincent Azzarello and ran into the end zone, completing a 42-yard touchdown play that gave the Golden Eagles a 17-13 lead.

“Something just told me to turn around and the ball was there,” Tisdale said. “It really was just unbelievable.”

It wasn’t Tisdale’s first catch of the night — he had four catches for 111 yards. But his final catch was his biggest.

Athens (10-3) will advance to the semifinals, hosting J.O. Johnson on Friday at 7 p.m. J.O. Johnson won 19-14 at Russellville to advance.

Hartselle senior Matt Zartuchie, left and fellow senior Caleb Blanton walk off J.P. Cain in Hartselle for the last time as high school football players Friday night. Athens eliminated Hartselle 23-13 in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Hartselle senior Matt Zartuchie, left and fellow senior Caleb Blanton walk off J.P. Cain in Hartselle for the last time as high school football players Friday night. Athens eliminated Hartselle 23-13 in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
During the regular season, Athens lost to Hartselle 35-31 at home.

Athens took the rematch and a disappointed Hartselle team (11-2) ends its season.

“Our guys played as hard as they can play,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said. “They played their hearts out like they always do.”

Said Athens coach Allen Creasy: “We’re the 13th straight team now that’s had trouble with Hartselle.”

Everything was even through much of the first quarter.

But after both teams went three-and-out on their first two offensive series, Marquez Jones’ 37-yard touchdown run and Ray Canafax’s extra point eight minutes into the game gave Hartselle a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After Canafax’s 34-yard field goal midway through the second, Hartselle led 10-0.

Athens’ kicker Matt Jackson answered with a 40-yard field goal, putting the Golden Eagles on the scoreboard 1:39 before halftime.

Hartselle led 10-3 at the

break.

Canafax came back with a 21-yard field goal that put the Tigers up 13-3 midway through the third, but playing from behind isn’t a situation the Golden Eagles are unfamiliar with.

And fighting for its season to continue, Athens came alive in the second half.

“We’ve been in that situation before and we knew we couldn’t panic,” Creasy said. “We’ve got guys who can make plays and they did tonight.”

A 9-yard pass from Rob Ezell to Vincent Azzarello set up a 14-yard touchdown catch by Jacquez Pride that trimmed Hartselle’s lead to 13-10 with 2:56 left in the third.

The go-ahead play by Tisdale came with 1:54 left to play in what had been a scoreless fourth quarter.

Ferrell Williams completed the comeback win, adding a 25-yard touchdown run with 1:15 left in the game.

Ezell, a finalist for Class 5A Back of the Year, finished 17-of-39 passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was a great playoff game, and we could just as easily be moving on as they are,” Godsey said.

“Two great teams, two great programs. I thought it was a well-played game all the way around.”

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