MUSCLE SHOALS — There’s a new king in the north.
And Class 5A No. 1 Muscle Shoals (6-0, 4-0 Region 8) seized the throne in uncharacteristic fashion in Friday night's 28-21 win against defending state champion, No. 4 Hartselle (4-2, 3-1).
Hit with two personal foul penalties and picked apart by Tigers quarterback Deacon Aldridge, the Trojans' heralded defense failed to protect an 8-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
With 1:24 to score or take its chances in overtime, the Muscle Shoals offense bailed out its teammates, going 80 yards in seven plays. Jamarcus Nance scored the winning touchdown from a yard out, getting stood up at the goal line but rolling off into the end zone with 27.5 seconds to play.
“It feels good to do that,” running back Tyler Jackson said of the offense's game-saving role. “We knew we were capable of it. We work on 2-minute situations all the time; we just never really have been put in that situation. But it feels good to get some love.”
Jackson came to life the second half and set up the winning score with a 51-yard run to the Hartselle 1-yard line on second-and-10 with 33 seconds remaining.
He finished with 120 yards rushing and a 21-yard touchdown on seven carries after totaling minus-2 yards on two first-half rushes.
Nursing a 14-13 halftime lead into the fourth quarter, the Trojans turned to Jackson, who netted 58 yards on a 65-yard touchdown drive, capped by his 21-yard run. That set up a 21-13 Muscle Shoals lead with 4:09 to play.
It might have been the dagger, if not for some costly penalties on the Trojans.
A clipping penalty negated a 12-yard touchdown run by Jackson on fourth-down earlier in the fourth quarter, and an ensuing 47-yard field goal attempt missed short, keeping it a 1-point game at the time.
Then, with Muscle Shoals up by 8 after Jackson's 21-yard score, Muscle Shoals linebacker Blake Logan sacked Aldridge for a loss of 17 on third-and-5 from the Hartselle 31, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for celebrating moved the chains anyway.
“It’s a lot of fun playing this game, and kids are having fun,” Muscle Shoals coach Scott Basden said. “But I guess I did a poor job of teaching them to come over here on the sideline and have fun. But I thought the kids played their butts off, and I’m proud of them.”
From there, Aldridge completed five of his next eight passes, including a 9-yard touchdown to Sidney Steele after a second-down roughing-the-passer penalty.
Aldridge then rolled right and connected with Steele for the tying 2-point conversion.
Aldridge finished 15-of-28 passing for 177 yards with touchdown throws of 12, 24 and 9 yards, the last two to Steele, who had five catches for 91 yards.
“He’s a warrior,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said of his quarterback. “He had protection to do that. There were five guys up front fighting their guts out. We had some receivers make big catches. We’ve got to learn how to make those plays earlier in the game, not just down the stretch.
“We’ll get it figured out,” added Godsey, whose team saw a 17-game region winning streak end a week after its 19-game overall winning streak was snapped. “Hopefully, we’ll see these guys down the road again (in the playoffs).”
Aldridge connected with Blake Slayton on the 12-yard score to give Hartselle a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
It stayed that way until Nance ripped off a 41-yard touchdown run to tie it on the quarter’s final play.
The Tigers regained a 13-7 lead on Aldridge’s second touchdown pass but missed the extra-point kick.
Weston Allen then set up the Trojans’ 14-13 halftime lead with a 5-yard scoring run.
Nance finished with a game-high 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 19 carries, including 100 yards on eight first-half rushes.
Its inability to get off the field late in the game notwithstanding, Muscle Shoals’ defense put on a solid performance, holding Hartselle to 63 yards rushing on 33 attempts.
Auburn commitment and five-star defensive lineman Dee Liner totaled six tackles, two sacks and three tackles-for-loss while Gene Chizik watched the first half from the sideline.
With the crown, the Trojans know there now comes responsibility, and a target on their chest.
“After a game like this, it just proves you have to work harder,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of work to make it to No. 1, and it’s work to stay there. Now, we’ve sent a message to everybody in the state. Hartselle used to be the measuring stick, and now we’re the measuring stick for everybody.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.