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The West Blocton Tigers (5-4, 4-2) went to Moundville and clinched its spot in the Class 4A playoffs by defeating the Hale County Wildcats (3-5, 2-4) 26-7. The Tigers trailed the Wildcats by 1-point at halftime but scored 20-unanswered points to ensure they would be in the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year.

"I went in there and got in their butt a little bit. That's about all we did because we knew exactly what we were trying to do. We didn't do anything different besides just come out with a little bit more energy," said Tigers head coach DreMail King. "It was homecoming for them. It was a long little break at the beginning of the game, after our pregame. It was just a lot of things that aren't normal and it's hard to get in our routine after things like that happen."

Hale County opened the game with the football but unfortunately turned the ball over on the opening snap on an Antwain Zinnerman interception to Briggs Glass.

West Blocton worked its way into the the redzone after its great opening field position but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, illegal substitution penalty and negative yardage running play saw them waste the opportunity to open the scoring and instead the Tigers had to punt.

Hale County wasn't able to do much with its next possession working the ball out to the 32-yard line before having to punt away possession.

The Wildcats were able to create some momentum defensively on the next possession, forcing a midfield fumble recovered by junior Tai Travis. Unfortunately, once again, Hale County's offense sputtered, going three-and-out and being forced to punt.

The punt backed West Blocton into its own end. The miscues continued for the Tigers as just two plays later a high snap was mishandled, resulting in a Carsen Green fumble recovery for Hale County on the Tigers 26-yard line.

The Wildcat offense finally found a little life, with some assistance from a pass interference penalty. On 1st-and-10 from the 11-yard line Zinnerman found Ladanian Parker for what turned out to be Hale County's only score of the game.

West Blocton didn't waste any time responding to the score as the Tigers answered on the next drive. Facing 4th-and-2 from the 44-yard line the Tigers handed the ball to senior Jaxon Lightsey who plunged through the initial line of scrimmage and raced through the middle of the defense for the first of two touchdowns on the evening.

Lightsey ended up with 59 yards off five carries with two touchdowns and one fumble for the game.

The remainder of the first half was a sloppy affair, filled with penalties and punts on both sides but it ended with excitement.

Hale County inherited the ball on the Tiger's 39-yard line with under a minute remaining in the half, clinging to its 1-point lead. After two quick completions to junior Omad Witherspoon, mixed in with penalties on both sides the Wildcats had it 1st-and-20 from the 37 with one play remaining.

Zinnerman found junior Keavious Manson on a deep pass down the sidelines. Manson gave his best effort to reach the goal line but he was tackled just 1-yard short of pay-dirt as time expired.

The penalties and points eerily equaled one another as both sides went in for halftime. Hale County had seven points and seven penalties, five on offense and two on defense. West Blocton's six points were also matched by its penalties, four on offense and two on defense.

The Tigers came out of the break appearing like a much different football team. They marched the opening possession of the half 13-plays for 75 yard, converting on four third downs and finishing with freshman Trey Lawley found Tyseon Smith for a 6-yard touchdown pass to take the lead.

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The Tigers defense continued its stifling performance, stopping West Blocton on 4th-and-1 from midfield on the next drive.

The Tigers continued to pull away as the clock rolled over into the fourth quarter. West Blocton punted the ball, backing up the Wildcats deep in their own territory. On 3rd-and-16 from his own 5-yard line Zinnerman was sacked and fumbled, the ball rolled through the back of the endzone for a safety, expanding the Tiger lead to eight points.

"Our defense has been doing that all year and we lean on those guys. We have a lot of young guys on our offense so defense didn't do anything that we weren't expecting them to do. Every week we're going to lean on them," said King.

West Blocton continued to build momentum, managing a big return on the free kick and taking its next offensive drive 5 plays and into the endzone off Lightsey's second score of the game.

The icing on the playoff clinching win came just minutes later. Hale County fumbled the next offensive snap and gave possession right back to West Blocton. Two plays later, Lawley kept a read option and raced 34 yards down the sidelines for the game's final touchdown.

"Obviously, West Blocton deserves a lot of credit. They got done what needed to get done. We had the lead going into halftime. Unfortunately, too many mistakes offensively. Put our defense in a hole as the game went on, had to play on a short field. You have to give them the credit, they were the more physical team tonight," said Hale County head coach Ryan Locke.

Lawley and Lightsey were aided by sophomore Nate Barron offensively. Barron took 23 carries for 89 yards.

Zinnerman finished his night of  8-19 for 81 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Witherspoon rushed for 35 yards and hauled in one reception for 7 yards for the Wildcats.

West Blocton will finish its season next week as they host Dallas County to close out its region schedule.

Hale County is now eliminated from the playoffs but the Wildcats can still play spoilers. They hit the road next week to play Sipsey Valley in a game the Bears must win to get into the playoffs.

"I challenged them right then, and we'll see how they respond this week. For the seniors, how do you want your legacy to be left and for the younger classmen, juniors, sophomores and freshman it's about continuing to develop," said Locke.


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