Ethan Crawford Outduels Earl Woods, Leads Patriots to Poll Position in Region Standings
The Hillcrest Patriots (4-0, 2-0) made school history by defeating the Hueytown Golden Gophers (1-3, 1-1) for the first time since 2013 and seizing control of 6A Region 4. Both teams were led by superstar quarterbacks, Ethan Crawford and Earl Woods, but it was Crawford and the Patriots who emerged victorious in a 54-44 shootout.
"Just another crazy, crazy game and hard fought. We've got room to get better but good gracious, we're going to celebrate this. To beat Hueytown here, and to do it in this fashion, I don't know what more you could ask for," said Hillcrest head coach Jamie Mitchell.
The dueling quarterbacks combined for 11 total touchdowns and led their offenses to a combined 1,013 yards of total offense but it was Crawford getting the edge over Woods 6 touchdowns to 5. The Southern Miss commit was remarkable on offense but he left it all on the field, lining up at safety and snatching the game-sealing interception on the final Golden Gophers possession.
"We knew what we were coming into. We knew the fight we were going to get out of both teams. It was a battle for both of us, it was a test for both of us. Just leading into the backend of the season. We know what we've got coming up in the future. We know we both have a chance to make it all the way through and just a good battle to show who was the top dog tonight, because any day, any other Friday they can get us back," said Crawford.
Hillcrest got out to a fast start, scoring on its first possession of the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Crawford to Bryson Kimbrough. The Patriots defense came out and got one of the few stops it managed on the evening as the Golden Gophers went three-and-out to open the game.
It only took 5 plays for the Patriots to find pay-dirt again, this time on a 38-yard Jamarian Johnson touchdown rush on a toss sweep. Johnson finished his night with 14 carries for 65 yards and the subsequent score.
“We got some rhythm early, which is always important, to get off to a good start. We thought we had a good plan. We were able to execute our plan early, get off to a good start, kind of get some momentum. We were able to find some things that they were doing schematically that we could attack and our guys made plays when they had the chance," said Hillcrest offensive coordinator Greg Guy.
The sides then traded punts, setting up the Golden Gophers offense up from their own 7-yard line for its third possession of the contest. Hueytown utilized Woods' arms and legs and running back Jakhael Rowser's athleticism and 13 plays later, the Golden Gophers were in the endzone for the first time on Thursday night.
An unfortunate JaMarcus Prince fumble at midfield set up the Golden Gophers again and Hueytown capitalized with an Elijah Hudson 9-yard touchdown run to take the lead for the first time in the regional rivalry.
Prince wouldn't take long to rectify his mistake, he put the Patriots back on top with a 16-yard touchdown reception, his first of three for the night. Prince finished the contest with 5 receptions for 88 yards and 3 touchdowns.
It wouldn't take long for Woods and company to respond as he and Rowser worked their way down the field again to score and reclaim the lead with just 2:12 left in the first half. Woods scored from 9-yards out and also found the promise land for the 2-point conversion to give Hueytown a 2-point lead. Rowser finished the contest with 22 carries for 135 yards and hauled in 3 receptions for 49 yards, serving as the primary compliment to Woods on the offensive end.
Two minutes was too much time for the Crawford and the Patriots offense as they took over with 63 yards of field to navigate. A horse-collar penalty, a big Crawford rush and an 18-yard connection with Jameson Farley put Hillcrest right on the goal-line and Crawford cashed in, finding Prince for his second touchdown of the half to go into the locker room with a 28-22 lead.
Hillcrest didn't surrender the lead throughout the remainder of the game but it wasn't due to lack of effort on the Golden Gophers end.
The Patriots caught a fortunate break to open the second half as the Golden Gophers muffed the kickoff. Thanks to effort and grit a Hillcrest special teamer came away with the football, setting up Crawford and company on the Hueytown 14-yard line with a chance to stretch its lead.
Seven plays and two penalties later saw Crawford sneak into the endzone on a fourth-and-goal situation. It was his first of two rushing scores and it extended the Patriots lead to 12 points.
Woods and the Golden Gophers did not lay down, however, as they went right down the field and answered with a score of their own. The 2021 Alabama Gatorade player of the year cashed in from 8-yards away to make it a one-score game. Woods finished the night completing 9-of-21 passes for 160 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He did most of his damage on the ground accounting for 30 carries and 206 yards with 4 touchdowns.
An excellent kick return followed for the Patriots and then one of the wildest plays of the night went in Hillcrest's favor.
Facing a third-and-25 from the 47-yard line, Crawford found Prince for a 9-yard completion. Crawford was wrapped up by Golden Gophers defenders, spun around but was never fully downed. The defenders released Prince, thinking they had completed the tackle, but Prince raced his way past everyone for a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Inconsistencies plagued the next Hueytown drive and Woods was stopped on downs after three incompletions just outside the Patriots redzone. With 2:25 left in the third quarter Hillcrest had a great opportunity to stretch its lead to three scores.
Unfortunately the drive ended after just 40 yards gained on what was Crawford's only real mistake of the game. He rolled right on a third-and-10 and tried to find Prince, but left the pass short and was intercepted by Noah Eskridge, keeping Hueytown alive.
The ensuing Golden Gophers drive ate a majority of clock in the 4th quarter, but ended the way many did on Thursday night, with a Woods touchdown run, his fourth and final of the evening with just 5:20 left in the game.
Hillcrest took over once more, after fumbling the kickoff, from their own 8-yard line with a chance to salt the time away and claim a historic victory. What happened next was a sheer display of effort and will to win as Crawford took the opening snap of the drive off the right-hand side for 92-yards and a touchdown to re-stretch the lead to 11-points.
"I'm always looking to score at the end of the day, but perfectly blocked up front. I didn't know they were going to block as well as they did. Chemar Moore came around and hammered the safety coming down. Jay Johnson had a pancake block and that just shows you how we are all around," said Crawford. "You can't game plan us because we've got receivers who can do whatever they want, running backs that can do whatever they want, offensive line that can get us however far we want to go. I'm just blessed to have the team that I have."
Crawford finished the game completing 10-of-16 passes for 177 yards and 4 touchdowns with just 1 interception. On the ground he took 18 carries for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"That was a play we talked about at halftime. A play we drew up on the board at halftime for our guys. We had not run it yet in the half. Obviously, perfect timing for it and it hit big. You obviously don't expect it to score from 90 but thought it was going to be a good play and Ethan kind of took over. Jackson Henderson was huge on that play, Jay Johnson was huge on that play, Chemar Moore was huge on that play. All three blocks on the edge, to get us to the edge and once Ethan got to the edge he just does what he does," said Guy.
Woods and the Golden Gophers had every reason to fold, but continued to fight. Last year's 6A state runner up got themselves into the endzone again with just 1:40 remaining. Woods found Hudson for a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 2-point conversion cut the lead to just three.
The ensuing onside kick was recovered and returned for Hillcrest by Preston Clendenin for 53 yards and a touchdown that capped off the scoring for the game.
"There was just no answer. We did not handle the hurry-up at all. I mean, not even remotely handle it. Blame me for that. I didn't have a good enough plan for that. At the end of the day the buck stops with me. I'm not going to blame the defensive staff, I mean, that's my job to have our team prepared. At the same time, we're going to go back to the drawing board and see what we've got to do better on defense," said Mitchell.
Hueytown continued to battle in its final possession but the game ended after Crawford was subbed in on defense and intercepted a Woods pass to put the final touch on a hard-fought, road region win.
"What we're really going to find out is what kind of men we are now, with our record and find out if we're willing to keep fighting and clawing and stay in the hunt for a home playoff game. We've got a lotta soul searching to do and the way we handle our business from here on out will speak volumes to what kind of men we are," said Hueytown head coach Greg Patterson.
Hillcrest looks to stay undefeated on the season as they host Brookwood next Friday. Hueytown will try to right the ship next week as the Golden Gophers hit the road next Friday to play at Bessemer city.