"Some teams win through athleticism and some teams through size," Hartselle Coach Mark Godsey said. "In Hartselle we have to do it through execution. It's just the way we do it. Our guys may be a little smaller. They may be an inch or two shorter than the Division I players. They may be a couple of pounds lighter, but they are good football players. We have really good high school players."
Two of those were two of the smallest players on the field Friday night. Earning MVP honors, quarterback Deacon Aldridge ran for 67 yards and added 25 yards through the air. However it was his leadership and his decision-making that was the difference for the Tigers in the win. On the night he led an offense that gained 176 yards on the ground and kept Vigor off balance.
Perhaps the MVP should have gone to kicker Gavin Marsh. Connecting on field goals of 38 and 47 yards to give Hartselle the lead while also averaging 39 yards on two punts with both inside the 20, Marsh proved to be the difference in winning and losing for a team that had little margin for error.
"We have played great defense all year," Godsey said. "We said at halftime that if we could come up with two field goals we thought we could win the game. We felt like we could hold them defensively."
The first half was far from a thing of beauty for both teams as they combined for just 189 yards of total offense, 12 penalties for 94 yards and two turnovers. Unfortunately for Hartselle both of the turnovers were by the Tigers and inside the Vigor 10-yard line. In the first quarter the Tigers drove down inside the Wolves' 10 but stalled. On fourth down Vigor jumped offsides on a field goal attempt to give Hartselle a first down. However Aldridge fumbled on the next play to thwart the scoring attempt with Alabama commitment Darius Philon falling on the ball.
With Hartsell's stingy defense slowing down the Vigor offense Aldridge went back to work in the second quarter. Taking over on their own 30 the Tigers began a steady march towards the end zone thanks to some help from the Wolves. On first down Aldridge was sacked by Arkansas commitment Jamichael Winston, but he grabbed the facemask in the process for a 15-yard penalty.
The drive would stall at the Vigor 25-yard line as Hartselle lined up for a 42-yard field goal. The kick from Gavin Marsh sailed wide left, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Tigers a first down on the Vigor 12. Just like the last time Hartselle got a break they quickly gave it away as Aldridge's pass was intercepted by Titus Whitsett in the end zone. Vigor would then go on a drive on its own as quarterback Devon Adams drove the Wolves the length of the field. That set up Marlon Moore's 28-yard field goal with just five seconds left in the first half. The kick was true to give Vigor a tenuous three-point lead at halftime.
Marsh would change all that in the third quarter as Hartselle came out and ran the football right at the bigger Vigor defense. Pushing the ball to the 21 before failing on a third-down attempt the Tigers sent the field goal unit in on fourth and a yard and Marsh delivered with his eighth field goal of the postseason. That tied the game at three and set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter.
Taking over just outside its own 40-yard line at around the 10-minute mark Hartselle got another big break from Vigor as Aldridge was run out of bounds by the defense but Deshawn Davis threw him down and got a personal foul. That spurred on the Hartselle offense as Blake Slayton and Aldridge ran the ball down inside the Vigor 30 for a first down. Vigor's defense would stiffen however and force a Marsh punt. Once again he came through as his punt was downed at the three-yard line with 6:18 remaining and the game still tied at three.
Hartselle's defense came up with a stop to force a Vigor punt that Slayton grabbed on the run and returned to the 33-yard line. Three plays netted just three yards to bring Marsh on for the 47-yard attempt. Hitting it solid his kick just cleared the crossbar to put Hartselle up 6-3. On the kickoff Vigor was called for a block in the back to pin the Wolves deep in their own territory. Unable to move the ball they turned it over on downs and Slayton finished off the celebration for Hartselle with a 12-yard touchdown run. Vigor made a last-ditch effort to score, but came up just short as time expired.