PREP FOOTBALL: Mars Hill hands Cullman its first loss of season 21-6

The Cullman Bearcats fell to Mars Hill on the road 21-6 Friday night. (photo courtesy of Cullman High School)

FLORENCE, Ala. – After starting the season 5-0 and rising to no. 9 in the latest Class 6A state rankings, the Bearcats finally fell short Friday night when they lost to Mars Hill on the road 21-6. Cullman turned the ball over three times in the loss and was hit with 11 penalties for 125 yards.

Things went off the rails for the Bearcats as soon as the ball was kicked. The Panthers returned the game’s opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead with just 20 seconds off the clock. It was the first time the ‘Cats have trailed all season. On the ensuing Cullman possession, quarterback Max Dueland connected with Nic Glass on the far sideline, but a fumble gave the ball right back to the Panthers with just under nine minutes remaining in the first quarter.

A punt gave the ball back to Cullman and the Bearcats were able to move the ball into Mars Hill territory, but a missed field goal kept them off the board and gave possession back to the Panthers. The ‘Cats forced another punt, but this time Drew Ball got a hand in to block the punt and set up Cullman with great field position at the 49-yard line. Unfortunately, the Bearcats couldn’t take advantage of the special teams play and turned the ball over on downs.

The ‘Cats finally caught a break when a Panthers fumble gave them the ball back near midfield with five minutes to play in the half, and just a few plays later, Dueland found Jeb Bartle all alone deep down the field for a 38-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to just a point. However, the extra point was wide left and Mars Hill clung to a 7-6 lead with two minutes to play in the second quarter.

That’s when penalties really began to hurt the Bearcats. A late hit, a pass interference call and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty set the Panthers up with first-and-goal from the 7-yard line with less than a minute in the opening half and on the next play, a 7-yard touchdown run made it a 14-6 game going into the locker room at the break. Cullman outgained Mars Hill in the first half, but penalties, turnovers and special teams proved to be the difference in this one.

The ‘Cats fumbled the ball again on their opening drive of the third quarter on the next snap of the game, and Mars Hill ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run to add to its lead and make it a 21-6 game early in the second half. Dueland was picked off on Cullman’s next possession but the Bearcats held on the defensive end to keep their comeback chances alive. The ‘Cats got the big play they needed when Jake Dueland burst through the line for a 70-yard run that would’ve set Cullman up with first-and-goal, but a flag for a crack back block brought the ball all the way back.

The Bearcats weren’t able to find a spark on the offensive side in the final frame and Mars Hill held on to win it 21-6, handing Cullman its first loss of the season.

Max Dueland completed 12 of his 17 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown in the loss and added a team-high 37 yards on the ground. Glass hauled in four catches for 73 yards, Isaiah Jones added 65 yards on three catches, Jake Dueland caught four passes for 54 yards and Bartle finished with a 38-yard touchdown reception.

The ‘Cats will be back in region play next week when they travel to play Decatur.

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