OBITUARIES: Decatur | Shoals | Huntsville
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Dragon slayers
Tigers stop visiting star, ride Aldridge to rematch with Muscle Shoals
By Justin Graves
The Decatur Daily

Daily photo by Jeronimo Nisa
Hartselle High’s Masio Stover avoids the tackle of Wenonah’s Barry Johnson during the second quarter of the Class 5A second-round contest at J.P. Cain Stadium in Hartselle on Friday night.

HARTSELLE — Standing outside Hartselle High’s locker room, Waid Miller calmly discussed the night’s events.

No smile. Little emotion. Simply stoic.

Kind of strange. A significant win just had been placed in the record books.

Hartselle stymied Wenonah’s big-play offense, limiting star quarterback Barry Johnson to four yards rushing as the Tigers advanced past the Dragons 28-6 Friday in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.

The win puts Hartselle (8-4) in the quarterfinals for the sixth time in seven years. The Tigers travel to play top-ranked Muscle Shoals next week.

So, where was the emotion?

“It’s a big win, but we’ve played in a lot of big games,” said Miller, who had an interception. “All of us here, we’re ready for next week.”

Business as usual. That was the manner in which Hartselle handled Wenonah (10-2).

The Tigers controlled the Dragons from start to finish, winning almost every facet of the game.

Hartselle quarterback Deacon Aldridge put together his best performance since mid-October, consistently guiding the Tigers’ offense deep in Wenonah territory.

And when Hartselle moved into the red zone, Aldridge made Wenonah sing the “Deacon Blues.”

Aldridge finished with 149 yards on 9-of-13 passing, throwing four touchdowns.

“Offensively, we may have had our best night,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said. “We made some plays when we needed them, and that last drive to run the clock out, that was huge.”

The efficiency started early. On Hartselle’s second possession of the game, Aldridge threw a 20-yard touchdown to Sidney Steele.

Aldridge threw his second touchdown of the night a few minutes later, hitting Nick Beach for a 57-yard score. Beach also had a six-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, giving Hartselle a 21-6 lead at halftime.

“I was wide open,” Beach said of the second touchdown catch. “They had some other guys covered up in the end zone and let me slip out uncovered. Get me the ball in that situation and I’m going to make the catch. I love it when that happens.”

Hartselle moved the football efficiently all night, piling up 292 yards of total offense. Blake Slayton finished with 64 yards rushing on 16 carries. Tanner Oakes also caught a 3-yard touchdown pass.

But it was Hartselle’s defense that showed out. Facing a lineup loaded with blazing speed, the Tigers didn’t give up a single big play.

Johnson, a track star converted to quarterback, never was allowed to get into space. Hartselle’s defense kept Johnson contained, forcing him to throw the football down field — something he did with little success.

Johnson finished with 152 on 12-of-28 passing with two interceptions. Wenonah’s longest gain was a 34-yard completion Nicolas Jackson late in the second quarter. The Dragons finished with 223 total yards.

Wenonah’s lone touchdown came on a 95-yard kickoff return by Jackson midway through the first quarter.

“I thought we executed very well, with the exception of the busted kick coverage,” Godsey said. “We had a great plan, and felt good about our plan coming into the game. Our kids executed it very well.”

Miller agreed.

“We just came out and did our jobs the way we were supposed to,” the Hartselle linebacker said. “They had some great athletes, some track stars, but we just played our assignments and battled for four quarters. Now we get to go and do it again.

“This time of year, it’s what you play for. I can’t wait to get back on the field and do it again.”

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