Hillcrest Digs In and Defeats Saraland in 6A Quarterfinals
The Hillcrest Patriots (11-2) will be moving on the the AHSAA Class 6A semifinals after defeating the Saraland Spartans (10-3) at home 24-16. The Patriots scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to get back to the 6A semifinals for the first time since 2017.
"There doesn't need to be any talk about us offensively because that game was won on the defensive side of the ball," said Hillcrest head coach Jamie Mitchell. "We were late getting lined up on fourth down there, on the first series, and they get a first down and then really, from that point on, holy cow. We can't play much better defensively, I don't know that we can. Just a phenomenal, phenomenal effort out of our defensive coaches and guys."
The Saraland Spartans got off to a 7-0 lead after taking the opening possession for a touchdown following a midfield fourth down conversion. Spartans junior quarterback Gabe Reynolds found senior Jarel Williams for a 35-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring.
It looked as though the south Alabama school would run away with the contest early as the Spartans took its second drive down to the red zone only to fumble away possession and squander an opportunity.
Saraland scored a safety by blocking a Patriots punt on the second possession of the game to give the visiting team a 9-0 lead.
Hillcrest was shut down offensively in the first half as they were held to just 2.1 yards per carry running the football and 100 yards of total offense.
However the momentum began to shift in the second half as Hillcrest turned to junior quarterback Ethan Crawford to move the football through the air. Crawford finished 20-of-38 for 265 yards and one passing touchdown, additionally he took 11 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
Crawford utilized his trio of senior receivers Terrance Callaway, J'Quon Sturdivant and Anthony Meyers Jr. to move the ball through the air and score 24-unanswered points, providing the Patriots with the spark to win the ball game.
Sturdivant led the way with eight receptions for 117 yards but it was Callaway who made the biggest receptions, he hauled in four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. His 20.3 yards per reception were crucial to Hillcrest's efforts to attack the Saraland defensive backfield.
"We had to put our trust in our good wide receivers. We got them for a reason, they took something from us and us being where we are, we went to the second option. Our receivers stepped up big for us. Terrance Callaway, two big catches. J'Quon to bring the momentum that helped the team a lot," said Crawford.
After softening up the Spartans defense through the air Crawford and company utilized the ground game to put the game out of reach. The junior scored twice on the ground, once from 14-yards out and once from 44-yards away.
"It was a tough, round three game. It's what you expect. Two good teams and we fought all the way to the end. A lot of respect to Saraland, those boys can play," said Crawford.
Saraland never quit in the game and were able to find Williams in the fourth quarter for a second touchdown reception. The West Virginia commit ended the evening with six receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
"We knew that he's a Power 5, big time wide-out. We tried to cheat as much help as we could towards him and, heck, he goes up and makes a monster play down here for their second touchdown. He's gonna make some of those but I thought overall we couldn't have done better," said Mitchell.
Ultimately the Patriots defense forced two turnovers on the game and were very physical against the Saraland offensive front. They held the Spartans to 228 yards and limited them to 101 yards through the air.
Braylon Howard and Kendrick Davis came up with the Hillcrest interception and fumble recovery defensively.
The Patriots will hit the road and take on the Hueytown Golden Gophers. The Golden Gophers gave Hillcrest its only region loss of the year, winning 38-30 on September 17. The Class 6A Region 4 foes will go at it for a place in the state championship game on Friday, Nov. 26 at 7 p.m.