CULLMAN – For the second time under current coach Gerald Turner, the Cullman Middle School teams put together an undefeated season of football.
It happened for the first time in 2012. It took place once again on Tuesday night at Oliver Woodard Stadium when the seventh-grade team shut out Guntersville 20-0 and the eighth-grade ‘Cats romped to a 40-16 final.
The two combined for 14 wins on the 2016 season as they both were 7-0. Turner’s middle school program has only lost twice in the last five years.
His last eighth-grade team to go through the season undefeated included current seniors on the varsity team, including Alabama commitment Hunter Brannon, Ross Crocker, Dawson Drake, Caden Winn and Owen Lovell, to mention a few.
Seventh grade: Cullman 20, Guntersville 0
A scoreless first quarter in the seventh-grade game changed to the Bearcats' favor when they produced two touchdowns during the second period, including a score on the final play of the first half.
A 75-yard drive came to a close in the Guntersville end zone on a 56-yard run by Max Gambrill. That was with 3:15 remaining. The conversion failed and Cullman went up 6-0.
A strange play happened to benefit the Bearcats even though they lost the ball on a fumble. John Blackwood ran for 10 yards and a first down, but lost the ball into the hands of Guntersville's Ben Biddle. Biddle ran up to the Wildcats' 45, only to be separated from the ball, with Cullman getting a new series of downs with 30 seconds showing on the clock.
The 'Cats took advantage of the Guntersville miscue with Hayden Stancil hitting Gambrill for the touchdown with 19 seconds to go before the break. Stancil passed to William Bradberry and the 'Cats were ahead 14-0.
Having the ball once in the third quarter was all Cullman needed to put the game away. From their 20, the 'Cats drove it 80 yards in four plays as the series ended on Bradberry getting loose for 51 yards.
That was the final play of the third period as Cullman now enjoyed a 20-0 cushion.
The Cullman defense forced three turnovers with the final coming on a fumble recovery by Carter Gay with 5:50 to play in the contest. Cullman allowed Guntersville 14 yards of offense in the third and 33 during the fourth with the Wildcats not able to get the ball near the Bearcat end zone.
Cullman ran for 249 yards in the season finale as Bradberry had 56 yards on two carries and a touchdown, Gambrill three carries for 69 yards and a score plus one reception for a 45-yard touchdown.
Jamar Kay had two rushes for 36 yards, Jake Dueland one rush for 11 yards and two catches for 19 yards. Stancil was 4 of 7 passing for 65 yards and a touchdown.
First half domination by the eighth grade: Cullman 40, Guntersville 16
Four first-half possessions for Cullman resulted in four visits to the Guntersville end zone with 212 yards of offense by halftime. This took place after the Bearcats were penalized on the first three plays of the game, with a touchdown taken off the scoreboard due to a holding.
Once the mistakes were eliminated, the 'Cats were on their way to romping the Wildcats. Max Dueland hit Napoleon Jones for a 33-yard gain that set up a 21-yard TD run by Jaylen Hughey. The conversion was scored by Hughey and it was 8-0 Cullman with 4:58 to go in the opening stanza.
Following a Guntersville punt, Dueland went deep to Jones who made the catch at the Wildcat 20 and headed on to the end zone for a 49-yard score. Ethan Echols had the conversion and after the first, Cullman led 16-0.
The Wildcats were again forced to punt and the 'Cats took advantage of field position. From their 38, the 'Cats claimed their third touchdown on a 2-yard run by Hughey. The score was set up by a 37-yard swing pass from Dueland to Joseph Sheppard.
Sheppard tacked on the conversion to make the score 24-0 with 5:47 left in the quarter.
Guntersville gave up possession on downs at the Cullman 41-yard line and the 'Cats ended the half with their fourth score. A pass interference call in the end zone gave Cullman an untimed down at the Guntersville 14.
Dueland drilled a strike to Gabriel Sosa and followed with the conversion and a 32-0 Cullman lead at halftime. The 'Cats had 212 yards of offense by the half, 127 on Dueland completing 6 of 7 and a running game that netted 85 yards.
Guntersville scored on the first series of the third when Jordan Griffin raced 50 yards for the touchdown and a 2-point pass by Jordan Burgess had the score at 32-8.
Then on the first Cullman series of the period, the 'Cats took it 60 yards and closed out their scoring with Matt Brock diving over from the 1. Brock had the conversion as well and the 'Cats led 40-8 with 5:24 to go.
Guntersville added a touchdown on a 2-yard run by Griffin, with a 55-yard run to the 2 from Jerrell Williamson setting up the score. Burgess threw another pass for the conversion and the score stood at 40-16 after the third ended.
The 'Cats controlled the clock in the fourth quarter with a drive that chewed up five-and-a-half minutes. The 'Cats turned the ball over on downs at the Guntersville 44.
Guntersville was unable to mount an attack on the final series with time running out and Turner getting doused with a bucket of water to start an enjoyable postgame celebration.
Cullman finished with 299 yards of offense, 172 coming from the running game and 127 by Dueland's passing.
Eight different Bearcats ran the ball in the second half with Cullman gaining 87 yards and having four first downs to control the line of scrimmage and time of possession, too.
Jones gathered two passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, Sosa two catches for 28 yards and a score, Sheppard two receptions for 35 yards. Hughey sparked the running with 63 yards on seven attempts and two touchdowns. The 'Cats had 14 first downs while they allowed the Wildcats 175 yards of offense, only 11 passing in the second half and five first downs.
Going into 2017, the seventh grade has a nine-game winning streak with the eighth grade victorious in 11 consecutive games.
Cullman vs. Good Hope?
Some Cullman fans began a conversation about wanting the 'Cats to meet the Good Hope Middle School team. Good Hope is 6-0, waiting to play in the county championship Oct. 17 vs. Hanceville. The Raiders are currently on a 31-game regular season winning streak.
That would be special to Turner, who graduated from Good Hope in 1980 and was the school's second player to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He did that as a junior when the Raiders went 9-2 and his coach was Billy Joe Pugh.
Pugh is a consultant in the press box for the middle school team with two grandsons, Eli and Jared Pugh, currently playing and making an impact in the Good Hope running game.
But the game will not be played, since a middle school is only allowed eight games by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA), with Cullman playing seven in a regular season and having a jamboree.
The two programs could hook up for one next season with plenty of talent coming from the seventh graders that would make the matchup very entertaining.
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