Long pass sets up Josh Lowman's winning field goal for Black Bears
By Brooke Milam
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HARVEST — Waiting for a big play, Austin High coach David Norwood's Black Bears had to be patient Friday night.
Playing at Sparkman in a tight game with seven lead changes and a pair of tied scores, the biggest play did not come until three seconds remained.
That's when Austin junior Freddie Moore caught a 45-yard pass from Justin Jones on third-and-10, setting up Josh Lowman's 21-yard field goal in a 34-31 victory.
"That was an unbelievable catch that we had to have to get ourselves within field-goal range," Norwood said.
The victory gave Austin its first Class 6A, Region 8 victory of the year.
It also evened Austin's overall mark at 2-2, including 1-2 in the region.
Sparkman dropped to 2-2, including 2-1 in the region. The Senators rolled into Friday night with a two-game win streak with region victories over Grissom and Hazel Green.
"We thought they matched up with us fairly well," Norwood said. "The bottom line is that we made plays when we had to make plays. Our offense went out and produced when it had to produce.
"I tell the kids that five big plays decide every ballgame. In my opinion, we won all five."
With Austin operating with no time outs, Moore caught the ball on the 9-yard line and scooted out of bounds to stop the clock.
The clock stops for first downs, but Moore's heads-up play meant the Black Bears were ensured that the clock would not resume until the ball was snapped on the next play.
"That was a headsy play by Freddie," Norwood said.
Austin struggled to stop Sparkman's Bryant Williams, who finished with 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but the Black Bears answered with senior T.T. Mallard. The bulk of Austin's handoffs went to Mallard, whose 106 yards rushing were what Norwood called "hard earned."
"The whole game I knew we had it in the bag because we had the offensive momentum going," Mallard said. "I give all the credit to our offensive line."
After a fairly clean first half, Norwood wanted more of the same from his Black Bears in the second half.
"At halftime, he told us to keep doing what we were doing in the first half and don't back down," Mallard said.
The Black Bears lead 16-14 at halftime.
After Williams' 1-yard touchdown run put Sparkman up 7-0 in the first quarter, junior Prentice Taylor recorded a safety for Austin's first points with 28 seconds left in the first.
With Sparkman ahead 7-2, Austin junior D.T. Shackelford ran 10 yards to put the Black Bears ahead. Lowman's extra point gave Austin a 9-7 advantage early in the second.
Sparkman went back up midway through the second with a 7-yard touchdown catch by Sam Whitt from quarterback Rob Weaver that gave the Senators a 14-9 lead.
Austin immediately answered with sophomore J.J. Marshall's 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff. Marshall's touchdown and Lowman's extra point capped an exciting first half that left Austin in a familiar position of having a 16-14 lead at the break.
The Black Bears stayed strong even after Sparkman regained the lead 17-16 on a 36-yard field goal by Michael Kitchens early in the third quarter.
Shackelford put Austin ahead again, this time on a 3-yard touchdown run, followed by a two-point conversion run by Jones that gave the Black Bears a 24-17 lead that stood when the third quarter ended.
Weaver's 3-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper tied the score at 24 with 4:26 to play, but Mallard found the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jones that put Austin back on top 31-24 with 2:30 left.
Williams' 5-yard touchdown run again tied the score at 31-31 with 1:02 to play, setting up Austin's game-winning drive.
Austin will host Russellville at Ogle Stadium on Friday, while Sparkman will host Decatur.
Mallard said the win was the kind of momentum the Black Bears have been looking for and heading into next week's non-region games, is one that Austin hopes will carry over into the second half of the season.
"It gives the whole team a big boost," Mallard said.
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