Cullman’s Jayden Sullins (23) fights for yardage in the ‘Cats 19-16 OT loss to Athens. (Joe McElroy for The Cullman Tribune)
CULLMAN – Cullman was explosive in the first half Friday night, but several defensive stances forced the game into overtime where the ‘Cats fell to Athens, 16-13.
The Bearcats got the scoring started on the first drive of the game as Seth Gable, Jayden Sullins, Dylon Wallace, Gabe Sosa, Noah Bussman and Alex Sheppard followed the lead of quarterback Max Dueland to make way for an opening drive touchdown by Sullins that put Cullman up 7-0.
Both offensives struggled to find the red zone but could move ball in the middle of the field. This changed when the Golden Eagles’ quarterback rushed 60-yards for the tying touchdown just two plays into the second quarter. The offenses stalled for both teams, but a big defensive strip and recovery by Carter Lindsey helped to pump up the Cullman crowd. Though the Bearcats couldn’t score off the ensuing drive, it would help set the ‘Cats up for a late-scoring drive to end the first half.
Dueland found Brock, Sullins, Wallace and Burks before airing it out to Peyton Colvard for a go-ahead 12-yard touchdown pass to put Cullman up 13-7, following a missed extra point, over Athens going into the break.
The second half saw both teams struggle to find their offensive rhythms. This rang true after a scampering Dueland was picked off inside Athens territory. However, an illegal block in the back negated the long return, setting the Golden Eagles up at their own 10-yard line.
Athens managed a couple first downs before being forced into a fourth-and-3 from the Golden Eagles’ 22-yard line to set up a long 37-yard field goal attempt. That’s when Cullman’s Gable came up big, breaking through the front to block the kick and give Cullman excellent field position with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
The thrill was short-lived as Cullman could not convert on the turnover and ultimately missed a 37-yard field goal attempt, which skirted just past the uprights.
Cullman’s defense stood up again when it forced Athens into a short fourth-down run, but Gable plugged the hole and stopped the attempt just short of the first-down mark to force a turnover on downs with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
The Bearcat offense couldn’t find its stride following the turnover, resulting in a punt; this punt return went 80-yards for the tying touchdown for the Golden Eagles. Athens was flagged for excessive celebration following the touchdown when the ball was thrown into the air. This forced Athens to attempt a 35-yard extra point which was no good, leaving the game tied at 13-13.
On Athens’ next series Cullman’s defense stepped up as Dustin Speake snagged an interception and set the ‘Cats up at Athens’ 39-yard line with 5:19 remaining in the game. Cullman’s offense got close to putting one in for six points, but the leg of Luke Andrews tacked on 3-points as he nailed the 21-yard field goal to put Cullman in the lead, 16-13, with 2:11 left in the game.
Athens was not intimidated and drove back down the field to set up a game-tying field goal from Cullman’s 8-yard line. With 3.2 seconds left the kick was up and good, sending the game into overtime.
Cullman took to the field first, but it was the force of Athens’ defense that pushed the ‘Cats backwards until Dueland lost the ball on a fumble that was recovered by the Golden Eagles. Three plays later Athens sealed the game with a chip-shot field goal, topping Cullman 19-16.
The Bearcats (3-4, 1-2) will have to regroup quickly after the dramatic finish and prepare for the Muscle Shoals Trojans coming to town next week.
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