Cullman comes alive in 2nd half to knock off Panthers, 42-40


GADSDEN – Cullman took to the gridiron for the first time in 17 years Friday night without retired head coach Mark Britton, when the Bearcats squared off against Southside-Gadsden in an attempt to improve the team’s record in region play.

On the fourth play of the game Cullman quarterback Fletcher Jennings aired it out to Reese Harbison for a 43-yard touchdown pass reception to put the Bearcats on the board first. However, the first play from scrimmage saw the Panthers’ Kenneth Bothwell scamper 80 yards for the tying touchdown just moments into Southside’s possession.

Cullman attempted to make a run at it on the team’s second possession but the Panthers denied the Bearcats any attempt to gain much ground. Following Jennings’ punt the Panthers began their drive on the team’s 15-yard line. This proved anything but problematic as Southside-Gadsden began to put on a show as Bothwell took the Panthers deep into Cullman territory before scoring on a 5-yard run. Southside-Gadsden went up 14-7 with just minutes off the clock.

The Panthers forced the Bearcats into another quick set before Jennings punted to set up Southside-Gadsden at its 32-yard line. It took all off six plays for the Panthers to take it in again to put them up 21-7 over Cullman.

On a third-and-13 from Cullman’s 25-yard line, Jennings aired it out to Harbison again, who hauled in the 22-yard pass to give the Bearcats a first down. On the next play Jennings hit a wide-open Carson Freeman for an easy 47-yard bomb to pull Cullman within a score, trailing 21-14.

This momentum shifted quickly as the Bearcats kicked off to Southside’s Bothwell, who took it to the house, pretty much untouched, to extend the lead to 28-14.

Cullman’s Jayden Sullins gave his team a shot in the arm as he consistently set the Bearcats up with good field position and hard-fought runs. Harbison jumped into the mix as well, snatching a huge 20-yard pass from Jennings on a third-and-11.

Sullins was a one-man wrecking crew as Jennings avoided multiple tackles to float a pass out to the running back, where he took it deep to Southside’s 15-yard line. A personal foul against the Panthers gave the Bearcats excellent field position inside the 10-yard line of Southside-Gadsden. A Jennings run for 5 yards set up an easy score as Sullins jumped onto the pile to break the plane, pulling Cullman within a score, trailing 28-21.

The Panthers were not done fighting as they worked their way down the field to set up a long third-and-14 from Southside’s 36-yard line when Bothwell took a 74-yard run in for another touchdown to put the Panthers ahead 34-21. Cullman’s Seth Gable blocked the PAT, leaving the deficit at 13 as the half came to an end.

Cullman came out angry and upset, forcing the Panthers to punt for the first time of the game. The Bearcats opened play from their 26-yard line. Sullins gained a couple yards on a short run before Jennings threw another deep bomb to Harbison who was wide open for the 71-yard touchdown reception, Harbison’s second touchdown catch of the evening. This brought the Bearcats within a touchdown, 34-28, as they kicked off to Southside-Gadsden.

Cullman held Southside-Gadsden, forcing a force a punt, but a bit of trickery from the Panthers gave them the first down on a fake punt run. Hardnosed defense eventually forced the second punt in as many possessions for the Panthers.

Jennings added on his third touchdown pass of the evening when he hit Freeman on a slant pass, who took it to the house and tied the game at 34-all. Miguel Tizapa came out and hit the PAT to put the Bearcats ahead 35-34 in the third quarter.

The Panthers came out to get something moving but the Bearcats harassed the Southside offense to force the third consecutive punt in as many possessions. A shanked punt set up Cullman at the Bearcats’ 46-yard line.

Jennings and Harbison didn’t wait long as Jennings tossed a short pass to Harbison who kept moving forward, dragging multiple defenders to Southside’s 25-yard line to give Cullman a first down to end the third quarter with a one-point lead on the 28-yard pass play.

Jennings kept the ball and ran it down to the Southside 4-yard line. He kept the ball and dove into the end zone to extend Cullman’s lead to 41-34. Tizapa’s PAT was good, which extended the lead to 42-34, to make it a two-possession game.

On Southside’s last possession of the game, the Panthers began their drive at their 40-yard line trailing the Bearcats 42-34. A flea-flicker from Bothwell aired it out to Robert Griffin to take it down to Cullman’s 30-yard line. Cullman’s defense stiffened up, holding Southside to a third-and-5, not allowing the run to make it to the first-down marker, stopping Southside 1-yard short and forcing a fourth-and-1 with less than 90 seconds to play.

Southside quarterback Griffin took the snap and ran it down to Cullman’s 12-yard line to give the Panthers a fresh set of downs and a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion. On the following play the Panthers’ Griffin tossed it to the corner for the touchdown to pull Southside to within two-points with a minute left in regulation. But Cullman’s Jaron Potter picked off the 2-point attempt in the end zone to stop the drive and lock up a hard-fought road victory for the Bearcats and interim head coach Mark Stephens.

Final score: Cullman 42, Southside-Gadsden 40

“I tell you, under these circumstances, I can’t say how much Coach Britton means to me and this has been hard for our players and coaches but we will fight and improve,” Stephens said. “I bleed black and gold and I’m just proud of everyone. Fletcher did a great job finding receivers and our linebackers did a great job in the second half to pull us back in the game. Next week, Brewer will be a different style of football, but they have a good defense line. We will continue to improve each week.”

Cullman improved to 3-2 in 6A, Region 7 play and 5-3 overall, making the Bearcats play-off eligible.

The Bearcats welcome Brewer on Friday, Oct. 27 for another regional matchup.

Copyright 2017 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Image: Joe McElroy