E.A. Sports Today

‘It wasn’t our day’

Turnovers and penalties do in Randolph County as the Tigers fall in Class 3A state title game

Randolph County’s Aaron Knight (24) gets knocked out of bounds by Hillcrest’s Kobe Bradley (1) and Andrae McMillian (above) and can’t quite break the plane of the goal line (below). Knight did score on the next play. (Photos by Jeremy Wortham)

By Jeremy Wortham
For East Alabama Sports Today

TUSCALOOSA – The AHSAA Super 7 Championship games can be an exhausting grind full of wild swings of emotion, especially if you’re coming into off a semifinals victory over Piedmont the way Randolph County did.

The Tigers went into the late stages of the fourth quarter looking for one more miracle finish, but it just didn’t happen.

Hillcrest-Evergreen’s Andray Pope raced 71 yards for a touchdown with 2:30 to go — one play after Randolph County’s fourth turnover of the game — and crushed the Tigers’ hopes for glory 26-14 in the Class 3A state championship game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It was the Jaguars’ first state champion. Randolph County was looking for its first title since 2003.

Hillcrest junior quarterback Ryan Nettles was named the game’s MVP. He was 15-of-24 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Power plays became increasingly rare and scoring opportunities were non-existent for Randolph County in the second half after taking a 14-13 halftime lead. The Tigers were held scoreless in the second half for the first time this season while being held to a season-low for offensive production.

Four turnovers, nine penalties, two trips to the red zone without scoring and several tackles for losses did in the Tigers. They had three lost fumbles, an interception and and turned over the ball in a key situation on downs.

“We turned over the ball the first few times tonight; we didn’t play our best, I guess, but Evergreen was outstanding,” Randolph County coach Pat Prestridge said. “They did an outstanding job putting pressure on us. You just don’t fumble the ball for a reason. We had opportunities, but came up short. Sometimes you fall short.”

Randolph County (13-2), which entered the game with a 10-game winning streak, seemed to gain some momentum when they blocked a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but lost it a few plays later when quarterback Brody Wortham was intercepted.

The crushing turnover came with 2:45 when Atario Hester fumbled in Hillcrest territory as the Tigers were driving for a go-ahead score. On the next play Pope went on his 71-yard burst to give Hillcrest (14-1) some breathing room.

“We came in at halftime and said if we can’t run the ball we’re gonna be in trouble,” Jaguars coach Clinton Smith said. “I was trying to come up with different play calls to throw Randolph County off a little bit. Right there when Andray ran the ball into the end zone I was kind of thinking we scored too early, but I’m glad he got down there and got in.”

The Tigers, who beat Piedmont in the state semifinals last week by scoring two touchdowns in the final 90 seconds, looked to start another miracle comeback. They picked up a big gain on a pass from Brody Wortham to Andrew Prestridge on the first play to inside the Hillcrest 15, but came up empty as their fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete.

“You get a big play and don’t make it happen it’s a killer, it’s a driver killer,” Prestridge said. “Penalties and holding and fumbles, whatever.”

Randolph County scored on its opening drive, led 14-13 at the half and “felt in control” at halftime. They held an eight-minute edge in time of possession at halftime, but Hillcrest held the ball seven minutes more than the Tigers in the third quarter and took a 19-14 lead.

The Jags took the lead on Andray Pope’s 2-yard run with credit to the help of several teammates making a second effort to push back the pile of defenders into the end zone.

Tyson Nicholson rushed for 133 yards for Hillcrest and Pope ran for 108 and two touchdowns.

Wortham threw for 187 yards for the Tigers. Aaron Knight rushed for 100 on 22 carries.

“Whoever thought we’d be here,” Prestridge said. “I knew we had athletes and players to be here. Being in there with Piedmont and all, we probably spend a lot of energy over the last few weeks, but you can’t take anything away from Hillcrest, they’re big and strong and fast and got athletes. It was just their day. It wasn’t our day.”

It’s been a good run. The Randolph County seniors ended their high school football careers with a 45-9 record, a Class 3A red trophy, a region title, two semifinal appearances and four straight playoff appearances. But the story of the final game and their careers will always be a tale of two halves.

“For our seniors it’s a life lesson,” Prestridge said. “Everyone wants to win a state championship and that’s outstanding, but life’s more important than state championship trophies.

“If they’ve grasped anything from what we’ve taught them all the time and they’re champions in the world, then you can’t ask nothing no better.”

Hillcrest running back Andray Pope gets into the end zone for the Jaguars’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Randolph County appeared to have the play stopped short of the goalline, but the Jags pushed the pile into the end zone. (Photo by Jeremy Wortham)

Hillcrest 26, Randolph County 14

Hill (26) RCHS (14)
16First downs15
32-154Rushes-yds41-100
15-24-0C-A-I6-16-1
226Passing yds187
3-1Fumbles-lost3-3
4-26.0Punts-avg3-45.0
5-56Penalties-yds9-64
7-133D convers.6-12
0-14D convers.0-2
2-3Red-zone scores1-3
24:33Time of poss.23:27

Hillcrest-Evergreen 26, Randolph County 14
Hillcrest 6 7 6 7 — 26
Randolph Co. 7 7 0 0 — 14

R – Aaron Knight 5 run (Buck Heard kick), 5:34 1Q
H – Kobe Bradley 7 pass from Ryan Nettles (pass failed), 2:43 1Q
R – Tre Terrell 49 pass from Brody Wortham (Buck Heard kick), 4:11 2Q
H – Brandon Rudolph 66 pass from Ryan Nettles (Andray Pope kick), 3:51 2Q
H – Andray Pope 2 run (pass failed), 6:45 3Q
H – Kobe Bradley 71 run (Andray Pope kick), 2:30 4Q

Tre Terrell (14) breaks away from Hillcrest’s Jailen Johnson to score Randolph County’s second touchdown of the first half Thursday. (Photo by Jeremy Wortham)

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