Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Hartselle coach Bob Godsey, middle in red shirt, leads his team through a review of a videotape of Friday night's win over Athens. The victory marked the Tigers' third win in four games.
After slow start, Hartselle back on track to make a run at playoffs
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
HARTSELLE — Nearly three months ago Hartselle High football coach Bob Godsey sat in his office glancing over his Tigers' schedule and made some predictions.
Wins would be hard to come by for Hartselle, especially with a schedule that included top competition. Godsey thought his Tigers could be in for a rocky start, maybe not even find a win until a month into the season, but still would be a dangerous team capable of a postseason run.
"Our schedule ... it's just brutal," Godsey said. "Worse case scenario, you come out of that opening stretch 0-3, and it's tough to battle back from.
"But I felt like we were talented and that was the issue the whole time."
An 18-year coaching veteran and a fifth-year head coach at Hartselle, Godsey was dead on.
Hartselle started off a dismal 0-3 — losing to Class 6A Austin, now-No. 6 Decatur and then-No. 3 Russellville — but has rebounded to win three of its last four, putting itself in position for a postseason berth that a month ago seemed a long shot.
"A Cinderella story," senior receiver Tony Weaver said. "If we can just get in the playoffs, anything can happen and so far we're on the road to do that."
A 42-0 win over defending 5A state champion Athens last week made the playoffs a realistic possibility and a win on Thursday over No. 10 J.O. Johnson would clinch a spot in the playoffs for the Tigers.
"I think this week will answer a lot of those questions," Godsey said. "How aggressive and how confident we play Thursday night will let us know if we've made a turnaround.
"We've put together a couple of good weeks and we've got to put together another one. It's as simple as that. We've got to win our way out of this."
Hartselle (3-4, 3-2 in Class 5A, Region 8) will travel to play J.O. Johnson (5-2, 3-2) on Thursday at Goldsmith-Schiffman Field in Huntsville at 7 p.m.
"Everybody is still wondering about us, and I think this is the week we can prove it to them," said junior center Russell Powell, who is a three-year starter.
Was there a time when the Tigers were worried?
Coy smiles all around a table full of Tigers when asked the question.
But did they doubt the talent inside their own locker room? The answer to that was a firm "no."
"We had a down time, but Coach Godsey told us we were better than that," junior running back Marquez Jones said. "We're having fun now."
Roaming the Hartselle fieldhouse were playmakers who Godsey knew would eventually mesh into a solid team.
Just how long that would take, he said, was a mystery, but the resilient Tigers seem to have made the turn in the second half of the season.
"We played a lot younger than we anticipated early," Godsey said. "It took us a lot longer to grow up than we thought, and when you're losing, that doubt always creeps in. Really, the only thing that can cure that is winning and especially winning against a quality opponent."
Hartselle's defense starts just four seniors, two of whom are playing their first year of varsity football.
On offense, the Tigers start four seniors.
A year removed from a quarterfinal appearance, Godsey said statistically, the Tigers aren't dramatically different than they were in last year's hot streak.
Senior Montrell Murphy, who sat out last season, leads the rushing game with 786 yards on 105 carries and seven touchdowns, followed by Jones' 312 yards and six scores.
Junior quarterback Luke Bole has completed 76 of 143 passes for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns. His favorite target, Weaver, has caught 34 passes for 533 yards and six touchdowns.
Linebacker Michael Reed, a senior and a four-year starter, leads the Tigers with 80 total tackles, including six for lost yardage. Junior linebacker David Reeves has 62 tackles with five for lost yardage.
Hard luck early ate away at the Tigers confidence.
And just when the Tigers thought the downward spiral had stopped with a 54-14 win over Muscle Shoals for their first win of the year on Sept. 21, they suffered another loss: 45-20 to rival Cullman. That made the Tigers 1-4 at the halfway point of the season.
"We thought we got things turned around in the Muscle Shoals game, but I guess we were wrong," Powell said.
With the Tigers battling injuries in the midst of a losing streak, junior Michael Hasse moved from offense to defense. Hasse made the switch from left tackle to nose guard two weeks ago and said he's seen a new spark on both sides of the ball.
"We're coming together, and last week, we came together more than any other week," Hasse said.
The marquee win finally came last week against Athens, which marked a complete turnaround from the first two months of the season.
Hartselle's offense had struggled to score points, averaging just seven points through the first three games, and its defense had given up as many as 45 in a mid-season loss to Cullman. But against Athens, both sides came through for a high-scoring shutout.
Already a local rival, Athens had ended Hartselle's season last year in the quarterfinals on the Tigers home field.
"When they put us out last year, it stayed in our heads," Jones said. "Everybody was looking forward to that game ... everybody."
Even Godsey said the way his team snapped into focus last week was a surprise.
"I think that speaks to their character," Godsey said. "A lot of teams each week have been in the very same spot we were in and which way are you going to go? You can give up or keep fighting, and they've kept fighting."
Hartselle’s 2007 journey
Date, opponent Result
8-30, Austin L, 14-7
9-7, at Decatur L, 31-14
9-14, Russellville L, 14-0
9-21, at Muscle Shoals W, 54-14
9-28, at Cullman L, 45-20
10-5, Brewer W, 55-20
10-12, Athens W, 42-0
Still to play
10-19, at J.O. Johnson
10-26, West Point
11-1, at Huntsville
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