Hale County Halts Sipsey Playoff Hopes
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Hale County rolled into Buhl on Friday for a region matchup with the Sipsey Valley Bears that carried massive playoff implications. The Wildcats fought back in the second half with brutal physicality and edged out the Bears 32-24, all but eliminating them from playoff contention.
The opening possession of the game for the Wildcats foreshadowed what would come in the second half. After a gashing 20-yard run by junior running back Keavious Manson and a couple of shorter gains, junior quarterback Antwain Zimmerman hit wide receiver TJ Hatch over the middle, who went on to burn the entire Sipsey secondary for a 41-yard touchdown. On both longer plays, multiple tackles were missed more than broken, a motif that would return in the second half.
Sipsey responded positively, stringing together a solid drive littered with connections between sophomore quarterback LJ Cormier and junior Wyatt Bailey. It was capped off with a 42-yard field goal from junior kicker William Espino.
Sipsey's defense got a stop and the offense started to take control of the game. A fortuitous roughing the passer call bailed the Bears out of a bad throw on 3rd down and they marched right down the field. Cormier then threaded the ball into the hands of junior wide out Eugene Taylor for a 15-yard touchdown.
Following that drive Hale County struck quickly with a 15-yard run from junior Jay Brown, followed by a 36 yard catch and run for a score by Manson.
Following a Sipsey punt, Hale County's offense went back to work and disaster struck. Bailey jumped in front of Hatch and snatched the ball away, giving the Bears the ball at their own 48-yard line. They made short work of the opportunity and Cormier and Bailey connected on a 45-yard deep ball followed by a 7-yard touchdown on contested jump ball.
Bailey was involved with a substantial amount of the things to go right for Sipsey Valley on Friday. The game would go to halftime with the Bears leading 17-14.
Coming out of halftime, the Wildcats seemed to have a different demeanor. Instead of dink-and-dunk passes, they began to run the ball right down the Bears' throats. Brown carried the ball five times en route to a touchdown that made the game 21-17 in favor of Hale County.
By contrast, Sipsey came out flat and struggled to get going. After turning the ball over on downs, they failed to stop the Wildcats until they were right on top of the end zone, allowing for a chip shot 25-yard field goal that put the game at 24-17.
The Bears did manage to find one more spark in the evening, when a defensive pass interference call way down the field set them up at the Hale County 37-yard line. Cormier hit Bailey in the end zone just two plays later, tying the game at 24 a piece.
That spark did not translate to the defense, however. Once again, Hale County marched right over them. A series of not recognizing a fake punt, missing tackles, and mismatches in the secondary, the Wildcats found themselves in the end zone again. However, the point after was missed, leaving hope that Sipsey could win the game without taking it to over time alive.
The Sipsey Valley offense stalled, though. The defense managed to stop the Wildcats after they chewed a large amount of clock, but things came to a grinding halt quickly.
Cormier was evading pressure in his own end zone on second down when he threw the ball harmlessly towards the sideline. The officials called the play intentional grounding, which resulted in a safety.
The Sipsey Valley sideline exploded with protest, arguing that Taylor was in the area of where the ball hit the ground.
"We had a guy in the area, but at that point you're not gonna get that call back," said Sipsey Valley coach Joey Milligan after the game. "It was a two slant call, so we know we had a guy right there in the area standing over the ball, but you know we'll watch the film and we'll see. If he wasn't, he wasn't, but we feel like he was right there."
The controversial safety effectively put the game out of reach as the Bears were down by eight and had to give Hale County the ball back with just under three minutes left to play.
The final score was 32-24, and Montavello, Hale County, and Sipsey Valley now all sit in a three-way tie for third place in 4A region 3, with the teams all owning head-to-head wins over each other. It will be interesting to see how the tie-breaking process shakes out.
"I don't know all the playoff scenarios, right now. I sat and tried to look at it. I knew we had to win tonight," said Hale County head coach Ryan Locke. "It's going to come down to some non-region games."
"If we get into the playoffs, that's extra practice for next year. And we have a chance to - who knows what happens if we get in the playoffs? You know, one win here, one win there, next thing you know we're in a position to make a run," said Locke.
Hale County squares off with Gordo next week in Moundville to close out their regular season. Sipsey Valley will travel to Northside next week. Whichever team obtains the fourth seed in 4A region 3 between Hale County, Sipsey Valley, and Montavello will face Anniston in the first round of the playoffs.