The Arab Junior High Knights closed out a football season of uncertainty last Thursday by splitting with Hartselle, but the results left coach Jason Guger proud of both teams.
The Knights found themselves down, uncharacteristically, early in the game and just fell short in their comeback attempt.
“We’re not used to having to play from behind and Hartselle brought over a really good football team,” said Guger.
Hartselle got on the board with 3:18 remaining in the first quarter to go up 8-0. Arab then marched to the Hartselle 10 on its opening drive only to suffer an interception that the Tigers returned to the Knight 16. Hartselle was able to score on a 1-yard run and picked up their second conversion of the night to go up 16-0.
The Knights were able to get things going again before the half ended, though, as quarterback Drew Puccio scored on a 9-yard run, but the conversion attempt failed. Arab was able to get back on the board again in the fourth quarter, when Puccio connected with Wyatt Lamar on a 16-yard touchdown pass, but again, the conversion failed.
“They were very physical but it took four quarters of football for them to beat us,” said Guger. “I tell our kids all the time if we lose a game, make sure the best team won. We don’t want to give the other team anything, but they scored on their first possession and a turnover led to their next score so we got down early.
“We had to battle back and I thought the kids did that. The difference was just the two, two-point conversion plays.”
The eighth grade finished 4-2.
• Arab 34, Hartselle 8
Arab dominated on both sides of the field to give the coach a complete game to end the season. While the Knights were putting up points, the defense did not allow Hartselle to get a first down or even cross midfield until the fourth quarter.
“By far, this was the best defensive performance of the year for our seventh grade,” said Guger.
In fact, Arab’s first score came when Luke Martin returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown with 4:14 to go in the first quarter. Luke Hudson, who scored the two-point conversion after the first TD, also picked up the Knights’ first offensive score on a 38-yard run to give Arab a 14-0 lead after a quarter.
With 3:54 to go in the second, Jackson Cook completed a fourth-down, 20-yard touchdown pass to Hudson, and with 22 seconds remaining in the half, Hudson completed a pass to Dylan Kirkland that covered 38 yards for a touchdown.
Zac Hallman went in for two to give the Knights a 28-0 halftime lead. Arab picked up their final score when Hallman broke free on a 25-yard touchdown run with 5:09 to go in the game.
The Tigers finally put up 6 with just under four minutes to go on a breakaway 65-yard run.
“Even though we don’t have a playoff for junior high football, you want to play your best football of the season at the end,” said Guger. “It shows growth, maturity and how far you’ve developed during the course of the season.
“We had several players making big plays for us throughout the game tonight and I was proud for all of them.
The seventh grade squad finished 4-1-1.
• Looking ahead
Reflecting back, Guger feels players from both teams can gel together to have success at Arab High.
“We’re going to miss some of these eighth grade players, obviously, but as a unit they were outstanding,” he said. “We look forward to having them as upperclassmen one day and when you put the seventh and eighth grade teams together, the skill they have on both teams and the linemen they have on both teams could be a special group for us if they’ll keep playing together and holding each other accountable.
“That’s certainly what we’re hoping for, for the future.”