Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Decatur High’s Tommy Rutledge fights for the end zone in the first quarter in the Red Raiders’ 45-42 triple overtime win over Benjamin Russell in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs at Ogle Stadium on Friday night. Attempting to stop Rutledge are Cory Adair (10) and Quinn Murphy.
Eight teams remain in each classification
Red Raiders travel to Cullman on Friday
Decatur High’s football team put itself among the elite Friday night, and as usual, the Red Raiders’ coaching staff had a plan — a plan to practice this week.
Decatur coaches already had drawn up a practice schedule for Thanksgiving week. They sent a letter to players’ parents before Friday night’s second-round game with Benjamin Russell. It was time well spent.
The Red Raiders left no doubt they deserved to be in the final eight teams in Class 5A with a 45-42 win over Benjamin Russell in front of a home crowd at Ogle Stadium.
It took three overtimes, but a Decatur team that has proven itself all year took one step further.
“When you get to the quarterfinals, it changes things a little bit because you can sort of see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Red Raiders head coach Jere Adcock said.
Class 5A Decatur and 1A Hazlewood are the only teams still alive from Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties plus Addison.
Class 4A East Limestone, 2A Tanner and Addison and 1A Speake fell Friday in the second round.
In the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, Decatur (11-1) will travel to Cullman (12-0), which remained unbeaten with a 41-25 win over Chelsea in the second round.
The Red Raiders scored more than three times as many points than Benjamin Russell had allowed its opponents this season. In addition, Decatur’s defense was making plays late in the game, holding Benjamin Russell to a missed field goal attempt in the third overtime, opening the door for senior Michael Schuster’s 22-yard game-winning field goal.
Adcock said Benjamin Russell was nothing short of impressive in the marathon contest.
“Everything I thought about them showed up tonight,” Adcock said. “And really, as good as they looked on film — they were even better.”
Against a great opponent that was as strong as expected, Adcock said he got exactly what he expected out of his team, too.
Every time the Red Raiders have faced a high-profile opponent this season, they have answered the call. Adcock paid respect to the teams he believes helped Decatur prepare for the moments that it faced in a win-or-go-home situation against Benjamin Russell.
Adcock said his team learned plenty from games against Class 6A Huntsville and Austin and 5A Russellville and J.O. Johnson.
“The Russellville game, the Austin game ... those are the type games that make you better,” Adcock said.
After falling to Huntsville 34-14 in the season opener Aug. 31, Decatur has not lost since. Decatur knocked off J.O. Johnson, then ranked No. 1 in the state, in convincing manner with a 30-20 win Sept. 13, and teams around the state started to take notice. Beating Russellville 24-23 on Oct. 12 gave the Red Raiders overtime experience, and beating city rival Austin 10-7 tested Decatur’s competitive fiber as much as any game all season.
Adcock said it was because of those games that his team was able to celebrate Friday night.
“I’m really pleased our kids did exactly what we’ve been talking about (Friday) night and kept pushing one play at a time,” Adcock said. “This group loves to play football and they have fun doing it. ... The greatest word in sports is ‘next.’ ”
Hazlewood dominates two ways: The Hazlewood Golden Bears continued their dominance on both sides of the ball in Friday’s 42-14 win at Gaston.
The victory gave Hazlewood (12-0) a trip to the 1A quarterfinals, where it will host Talladega County Central (12-0) .
The Golden Bears have a tradition-rich program with 11 state football championships to their credit. That’s a state record. But this year marks the first time Hazlewood has advanced to the quarterfinals since 2002.
While some teams rely on a high-points offense or a no-break defense to win games, Hazlewood has remained undefeated this season with strength on both sides. No defense has solved the Golden Bears’ offense all season.
On Friday, Hazlewood led Gaston 28-0 at halftime and never turned back. The Golden Bears have averaged 38.5 points a game this season.
Hazlewood’s stingy defense had another top performance in the second round as well. The Golden Bears have surrendered just 7.1 points a game through 12 games and have posted five shutouts. Before running into Hazlewood, Gaston averaged 39.0 points a game with a high of 74.