PREP FOOTBALL: Bearcats fall to Decatur 39-36 in 3OT heartbreaker

Cullman’s Wyatt Buchanon (32) returns a punt during the Bearcats’ 39-36 loss to Decatur Thursday night. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Bearcats returned home Thursday night for another critical regional matchup and four quarters weren’t enough for them to settle things with Decatur. Cullman and the Red Raiders were still tied at 24 at the end of regulation and we went to overtime. After going back and forth for three overtime periods, Decatur was finally able to pull ahead for good and the Bearcats fell at home 39-36 in an overtime marathon with the Raiders.

The Red Raiders were aided by some Cullman penalties on their opening possession but the ‘Cats were able to keep them out of the end zone and hold them to a field goal to make it a 3-0 game early in the first quarter. Penalties hurt the Bearcats on their first offensive possession as well but after punting the ball back to Decatur, Cullman’s defense stopped the Raiders on fourth and short to get the ball back near midfield.

Later in the opening period a Bearcats punt was muffed by Decatur and recovered inside the 10-yard line, giving Cullman an opportunity to get some points on the board. However, the Raiders were able to limit the black & gold to just three points as well and Garrett Mobley’s 26-yard field goal tied things up at 3. Decatur’s offense finally found the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to take a 10-3 lead over the Bearcats.

After exchanging punts with the Red Raiders, a big return from Wyatt Buchanon gave Cullman excellent field position with four minutes to play in the first half. Three plays later, quarterback Ryan Skinner hit Nate Zills over the middle, and he took it 42 yards to the house to tie the game at 10 with just under three minutes remaining in the second. Decatur used all its timeouts trying to get close enough for a hail mary attempt before the end of the half but couldn’t get any more points on the board and both teams went into the locker room with the score knotted at 10.

Both teams punted on their first possessions of the second half but on their second possession, the Bearcats took advantage of great field position once again to get some more points on the board. Skinner connected with Nick Holland for a 14-yard gain to give Cullman first and goal and two plays later Skinner punched it into the end zone from three yards out to put the ‘Cats in front 17-10 midway through the third. Unfortunately for the home crowd, Decatur struck back in a big way, capping off a scoring drive with a touchdown pass to tie the game at 17 and just a couple plays later, the Raiders intercepted a Cullman pass and ran it back for a touchdown to move back in front 24-17 late in the third.

A turnover on downs forced the Bearcats to give the ball back to Decatur near midfield at the start of the fourth quarter but Cullman’s defense stiffened once again and forced another Red Raider punt. A big return by Sawyer Trimble set the Bearcats offense up in Decatur territory and a beautiful 26-yard pass to Buchanon gave the ‘Cats first and goal from the 6-yard line. Tyler Owens took the handoff on a sweep one play later and broke a couple of tackles to get into the end zone and tie the game at 24 with seven minutes on the clock. Cullman’s defense forced Decatur to turn the ball over on downs on its ensuing possession, but the Bearcats were forced to punt the ball away as well, giving the ball back to the Red Raiders with just under two minutes left in regulation. A miraculous completion on third and 10 gave Decatur a first down at the 50-yard line with 30 seconds on the clock but the Raiders couldn’t get the ball in the end zone and the game went into overtime.

Cullman pulled ahead 30-24 in the first overtime period thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass to Owens, but a missed extra point held the lead to just six points. Decatur scored on its first overtime play to tie the game at 30 but the Bearcats got a great rush on the ensuing extra point and tipped the ball to force it to fall short of the uprights and sent the game into double overtime. Zills and the Raiders exchanged field goals in the next overtime period to keep the score tied at 33, sending us to triple overtime. Zills knocked through another field goal from 23 yards out to give Cullman a 36-33 advantage in triple overtime, but Decatur scored on the first play of its next possession and the Red Raiders escaped with a dramatic, 39-36 win over the Bearcats.

Skinner completed 20 of his 37 pass attempts for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the loss. Zills caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown and Owens added five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown as well.

Cullman drops to 2-2 with the loss and will look to bounce back next week on the road against Lee Huntsville.

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