When the Hillcrest Patriots are on the field, all eyes are on No. 3, Ethan Crawford. For a good reason, he's a highly talented quarterback. Once again, Crawford led his team to victory with his playmaking ability alongside running back Jamarion Johnson on the ground.

The duo combined for 224 yards rushing, helping the Patriots outlast the Baldwin County Tigers 28-22.

Outlasting is the aptest word to describe one of the best games to take place just off Hand Ave. in the heart of Bay Minette, Alabama.

Early in the Patriots' round two matchup with the Baldwin County Tigers, Crawford dominated the gridiron all over Simmons Field. A wild start saw the opening kickoff returned 90 yards by BCHS defensive back Diondre Jackson for a touchdown.

Crawford responded with a 79-yard touchdown on his first play from scrimmage.

The Patriots caught the luckiest of breaks on the ensuing kickoff when the ball bounced in favor of Hillcrest at about the 12-yard line. Three plays later, running back Jamarion Johnson reached pay dirt for the first time.

Baldwin Co. senior quarterback, Ty Mims, quickly drove his Tigers down the field and scored on a 5-yard rush. A responding touchdown from Johnson propped by a couple of deep completions from Crawford brought the score to 21-13 to close the first quarter.

Then the game flipped on its head and rolled down a hill.

Baldwin County High School hadn't played in a playoff game since 2007, its last win coming in 2003 prior to last week's tight victory over Helena. Bay Minette, despite holding the county school for the largest populated county in the state, isn't the most popular city east of Mobile Bay.

Maybe that's why the lights from the home sideline suddenly went out during a Hillcrest drive that was threatening to extend an already impressive lead.

A raucous crowd dissipated a bit after an initial announcement of a 1-hour delay was announced, but within 30 minutes the lights came back on and play resumed.

When it did, the Tigers defense became a dominant force that demanded Crawford and the Patriots scratch and claw for every possible yard for the remainder of the contest. The all-black uniforms for BCHS swarmed Crawford, sacking him on third down and swinging every ounce of momentum to the home team after a missed field goal.

"I really think, as weird as it was, it kind of helped us a little bit to settle down," Baldwin County head coach Scott Rials said after the game. "I went in there and told our guys, I said 'Look, we're right here in the game, we've had a few things happen but I mean it's a good game and we're here. Keep playing... We're as good as they are.

"I think for a little bit we had to really believe that, but once we saw that we weathered those storms, we knew we had a good chance. Those guys are very good."

The Tigers controlled the second quarter before ultimately scoring on a 15-yard pass from Mims to Ky McNulty with just 18 seconds left in the half, closing the score to 21-19.

The third quarter saw both defenses begin a chess match that forced both teams into multiple punts. Just when the Patriots began to build some momentum on its final drive of the quarter, an unsportsmanlike penalty undid the efforts of a 10-yard pass to Terrance Callaway.

After a Hillcrest timeout, Crawford threw a near-fatal interception to Tahjrick Bradley, a junior defensive back. On the next play, Mims dialed up a 55-yard bomb to McNulty that put the Tigers at the 3-yard line.

The Patriots' defense showed its resiliency and forced Baldwin County to settle for a 28-yard field goal from senior kicker Tony Licalzi.

The early fourth quarter provided more of the same as the third, with each team chipping away, but ultimately settling for punts. But when Hillcrest took over at its own 45 with 7:50 remaining in the contest, it was exactly the scenario the club needed to put on a dominant drive to take a late lead.

Crawford used a solid balance of passes and designed runs to chip away at the Tiger defense and overcome one penalty after the next, including one that wiped away a 42-yard touchdown to Derek Hall.

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"I don't know how many penalties we had in that ball game," Hillcrest head coach Jamie Mitchell said. "It just seemed like everything we did was called back."

Hillcrest was penalized 13 times for 120 yards. Baldwin Co. was flagged six times for 32 yards.

Still, bit by bit, Hillcrest drove the field. Once the offense reached the 13-yard line, Crawford ran a speed option to the home bench, pitched to Johnson who powered into the endzone for his third score of the night.

The Tigers had just 50 seconds on the clock when Mims took the field one final time, and nearly found the answer to the collective prayers of his hometown. Mims got his offense to the Patriot 41-yard line and tossed up a pass to Hunter Thomas in the front corner of the endzone that fell just out of reach. On the next play, Mims found McNulty in the endzone, but the junior dropped the ball as he hit the turf.

Mims and the Tigers had run out of magic and time.

"We came back out of the delay, we got stopped, but nothing changed for us," Crawford said. "We had the same goal. We wasn't gonna let anything stop us from getting to that goal. So, on to round three."

"What a freakin' ball game," Mitchell said. "People got every penny of their money's worth."

Hillcrest moves on to round three of the 6A state playoffs where the Patriots will host the Saraland Spartans.

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