Hillcrest Offense Secures Victory in the Second Half in Honor of Cameron Prince
In the first half, Hillcrest's offense got held down. But after a trip to the locker room at the half, it came out looking brand new. They came out looking like they had something to play for, and they did.
The team honored fellow student and photographer Cameron Prince, who died from surgery complications early Wednesday morning, before they played their quarterfinal playoff game Friday night. Just two days before the game, this was now about something bigger than just a bid to the next round. They were playing in honor of a lost friend. They were playing to unite a community who had just experienced tragedy.
"You don't say we've got to win for Cameron because that's too much pressure, you play in his honor," said head coach Jamie Mitchell of what that meant for them coming into this game. "That kid was as important to our high school, and I don't say that lightly, I mean he was loved by everyone. I know this, he had a great seat tonight to see it."
Blue balloons were released in a pregame tribute. The stadium was plastered with signs in memory of Prince, who took photos for the football team and was a loved member of the student body. Shirts were being worn by members of the student section and fans with "Cam's Crew" printed on the front.
Nothing said it better than the sign on the front rail of the student section, "Patriot Nation is Cam Nation." This game was for Cam.
Hillcrest was shutout in the game's first two quarters. They only had 100 yards of total offense and were held to 2.1 running yards per carry. It looked bleak for the Patriots as they headed in for halftime down 9-0 to the Saraland Spartans. It seemed like they couldn't get anything going on offense.
Then, one member of the student section could be heard at the end of halftime, over a bullhorn, hyping up the crowd. She gave a speech to rally the student section around the love Cameron Prince had for this team and his school, and urged them to cheer this team on as Prince would have. She reminded them of the unity and spirit they needed.
Hillcrest's team, despite the fact they didn't hear this speech from the end of the field where they were warming up, came out and played like they did hear it. It went on a 24 point run unanswered by their opponent. The comeback was like one out of a movie on a night that already had a storied beginning in the week leading up to it.
Offensive coordinator Greg Guy noted that they had to switch from the run heavy offense he normally likes to run, to a pass heavy style of play to get past the trouble the Saraland defense gave them and come from behind.
"Their (Saraland's) defense is elite. We were having trouble blocking them. So we just kind of challenged our guys on the outside, on the edge, our quarterback, and said, 'Hey we've got to win this game out there, they're making it hard for us inside. We've got to make some plays on the perimeter and try to get the ball out there, get the ball in space.' and we were able to do that," said Guy.
The Patriots, behind quarterback Ethan Crawford, made it a completely new game in the second half. The OC knew he could call on Crawford to get the offense going.
"When you've got a guy like that you're always in the game," said Guy, "He's going to lay his heart on the line every Friday night."
Crawford had 265 passing yards on 20 completed passes and one passing touchdown. His ability to make such a difference in the passing game opened the door back up for the team's rushing in the late third quarter, allowing him to get two rushing touchdowns.
Wide receivers had to step up and deliver to bring the team back from the nine point deficit. Wide receiver Derek Hall had zero receptions in the game because he was locked down by the Spartans defense, but he had lots to say about how the others came up big to get the victory.
"They're a man team, they run a lot of man. So for us to be able to do what we had to do, we had to get them in zone, so for us to step up and get them out of man was what really won us the game," said Hall.
The Hillcrest Patriots will travel to take on the Hueytown Golden Gophers in the semi-finals next week. This next game will be a rematch of the Patriot's only region loss this season, but this time it means even more.
They will continue to play in honor of the classmate and friend they lost this week, and hope to win a bid to the state championship where Prince will be watching from, as Mitchell called it, a great seat.
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