County High Pulls Off Thrilling Comeback Over Oak Mountain
Tuscaloosa County High School celebrated its homecoming in a thrilling fashion on Friday as the Wildcats pulled off an improbable come-from-behind win over in-region rival Oak Mountain in the final seconds of regulation.
The Wildcats first half started off promising. On just their third play from scrimmage, junior running back Kevin Riley broke loose for an 87-yard house call. However, those were the only points they would score in the first half as they missed the point after try and failed to score again until the third quarter.
Oak Mountain responded by working its way down the field more methodically. Senior running back Trey Vassell ran the ball six times on the way to the Eagles kicking a 43-yard field goal. His workload on that drive would foreshadow the rest of his evening as he would be used as Oak Mountain's main work horse.
When Oak Mountain got the ball back next, they made sure to find pay dirt. The Eagles ground it out again and sophomore quarterback Will O'Dell scampered into the end zone from 11 yards out to make the score 10-6.
After County High stalled out on another drive, the Eagles continued their early scoring deluge. After going to the air twice, Oak Mountain decided to lean on Vassell's bruising style of running and O'Dell scrambling from the backfield again. O'Dell capped the drive off with his second rushing touchdown of the evening.
Throughout the first half, the Wildcat bench and team seemed flat. There was a notable lack of energy and it was translating to their play on the field. Quarterback Sawyer Deerman looked lost and flustered when he rolled out and wasn't as productive with his legs as many fans are used to seeing.
That changed majorly at half time.
The Wildcat defense came out and absolutely swarmed the Eagles. They forced a quick three-and-out put the ball back in their offense's hands, who promptly enforced their will by handing the ball off to Riley repeatedly. Riley gained 34 yards and scored a touchdown on just four touches to make the score 17-13 and give County High new life.
Oak Mountain had an answer of their own in the form of a 62-yard dime from O'Dell to junior wide out Sawyer Smith for a touchdown.
To the Wildcats' credit, the team didn't let the big scoring play take the air out of their sails. They kept the energy high and after exchanging a series of punts with the Eagles, they came back out on offense and pounded the ball down to the 30-yard line. Then, Deerman did what he does best and made the entire field miss on a 30-yard touchdown scramble.
After three quarters of play, the score was 24-20 in favor of Oak Mountain.
County attempted an onside kick, but failed to recover it and gave the ball to Oak Mountain at their own 46-yard line. The Eagles took advantage of the opportunity and drove down the field to score on a 21-yard passing touchdown from O'Dell to junior tight end Jackson Blackwell, making the score 31-20.
When County High got the ball back, they let Deerman go to work. He attempted more passes on the drive than any other that evening, converting on two of them for twenty yards, and scrambling for 24. After Riley capped off the scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with just over eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats elected to go for two. They converted on a pass from Deerman to senior wide receiver Mason Ray.
Suddenly, there was a 31-28 ball game in Northport.
The Wildcat defense came up huge on the ensuing Eagle possession. After giving up a 30-yard run to Vassell, they held Oak Mountain to eight yards on their next three plays, setting up 4th-and-2. The front seven held strong and gave Deerman and the offense a chance to take the lead with 5:16 to play.
The Wildcats chewed up the remainder of the clock on that drive. After taking over on downs at the Oak Mountain 42-yard line due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the Eagles following the fourth down stop, Deerman and Riley took turns rushing the ball and got down to the 20-yard line.
Deerman then sought to connect with senior wide receiver Coleman Cooper while rolling to his right, but defensive pass interference prevented him from completing the pass and moved the ball to the ten yard line. From there, Deerman and Riley took it down to the 1-yard line with just three seconds to play on a series of gutsy and brute runs. Riley punched it in from a yard out as time expired to complete the comeback, and Tuscaloosa County High School won 34-31.
After the game, Oak Mountain head coach Tyler Crane could not be reached for a comment.
Wildcat head coach Adam Winegarden said that at halftime the team was extremely disappointed with how they came out in the first half and wanted to show the crowd what they could do with their support.
"It's a collective effort. Your best teams are player led, so when the players take ownership of the game, that's when you have an opportunity," Wingarden said.
"We came out dead in the first half that's something we've really gotta work on as a team," said Deerman. "I thought all the fans got me and that helps me perform."
County high has a by week this coming week and Oak Mountain will face Briarwood Christian at home.
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