HAMILTON - The tension could be felt through the crisp autumn air as the Hamilton Aggies and Haleyville Lions took the field at Joe Sargent Stadium for the 75th edition of their notable rivalry on Friday night, Oct. 2.
The Aggies used the week and matchup to celebrate their homecoming, unfortunately for Hamilton the Lions had their sights set on capturing the program’s 500th win and their first victory in Hamilton since 2016.
The Lions came out hot and immediately took the lead on the second snap of their first drive and didn’t look back as they stretched their lead later in the half en route to a 27-18 win over their rival Aggie counterpart.
Following Haleyville’s opening score in the first quarter when junior quarterback Eli Musso connected with Kristian Gravitt-Tucker over the middle for a 57-yard touchdown reception at the 10:47 mark of the frame, the teams traded possessions.
The Aggies put together a promising drive in the final minutes of the opening period, using runs from quarterback J.D. McCracken, Bryant Loving and Kevin McBride. Hamilton was able to convert on two fourth-down conversion attempts, pushing the ball into Haleyville territory, but were ultimately forced to punt after a stout effort from the Lion defense early in the second frame.
After fielding the ball at their own 25, the Lions handed off to Will Bartes for a 12-yard gain on first down. Austin Barry moved the Lions to their own 40 a snap later with a run through the middle of the line.
Lion senior running back Camden Smith powered his way across the midfield logo and down to the Hamilton 45 on the next snap to set the Lions up with a first down in Aggie territory. Two snaps later, Musso called his own number on a draw play. The junior signal caller weaved his way through the interior of Hamilton’s defense and sprinted down to the Hamilton 17 before being brought down from behind with a touchdown-saving tackle from Bryant Loving.
The Lions would not be denied, however, as Bartes crossed the goal line a snap later with a carry around the right side of the line. Jacob Lolley was good on the point after, putting the visiting Lions up 14-0 with 9:21 left in the first half.
The Aggies pulled momentum back to their side of the field on the ensuing possession. After returning the kickoff to their own 22, the Aggies went to work on a 10-play, 78-yard drive to get themselves on the board. Despite battling through an injury, McCracken was still leading the offense as the Aggies handed off to Bryant Loving on first down for a four-yard gain. Two plays later, the Aggies handed off to Thomas Angel who powered forward for a Hamilton first down. Bryant Loving carried the Aggies to midfield two plays later and Dawson Taylor broke into Lion territory a snap later with a six-yard carry.
McCracken connected with Bryant Loving two calls later, moving the ball down-grid to the Haleyville 10. McCracken called his own number on the next play and scrambled across the goal line for Hamilton’s first score of the night. Angel was no good on the point after, leaving the score at 14-6 with 3:01 left in the second quarter.
The Aggies pulled within two points of the Lions on their first possession of the second half. After fielding the opening kickoff of the third quarter on their own 21, the Aggies were forced to punt on fourth-and-19, but a miscue for the Lions allowed Hamilton to recover possession of the ball after a fumble on the punt return.
With a fresh set of downs inside Haleyville territory at the Lion 43, the Aggies decided for a home run play in an attempt to swing momentum back to their sideline. Using a play-action pass play, the Aggies dialed up a McCracken-to-Bryant Loving connection for the touchdown. Hamilton attempted to even the score with a fake PAT, but the effort was no good as the Lions sniffed out the fake and pulled down the Aggie ballcarrier before he could cross the goal line, leaving the score at 14-12 with 9:30 left in the third frame.
The Lions regained their two-score lead on the ensuing possession. After a nice return from Gravitt-Tucker on the kickoff, a horse collar penalty against the Aggies moved the ball to midfield. A face mask penalty against Hamilton two snaps later pushed the ball farther into Hamilton territory, giving the Lions a first down on Hamilton’s 26 yard line.
The Lions were pushed back to the Hamilton 36 a snap later after a holding call against the visiting team, but a quick pass to Bartes on the next play call saw the Lions pick up a first down and move the ball down to the Hamilton five-yard line.
The Lions inched closer to the Aggie sideline, but another holding call against Haleyville pushed them back to the Hamilton 15. Three snaps later, Smith plowed his way to the end zone from seven yards out for Haleyville’s third score of the night. Lolley was good on the PAT, putting the Lions up 21-12 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
The Lions were the first team to score in the fourth period as they rounded out their scoring for the night on the opening play of the frame with a 63-yard punt return from Gravitt-Tucker. Lolley’s PAT sailed wide left, leaving the score at 27-12 with 11:40 remaining in the game.
The Aggies rounded out the scoring for the game at the 3:43 mark of the game. After fielding a Haleyville punt on their own 18, the Aggies came out with their backs against the wall. After an incomplete pass and a sack, the Aggies were facing a third-and-16 when McCracken scrambled to his left for an 11-yard gain. The run from McCracken took a toll on the senior signal caller as he was forced to go to the sideline after struggling to pick himself up from the turf after the hard run. Reverting to their backup quarterback in Bryant Loving, who has helmed the Aggie offensive unit for the past two weeks for the injured McCracken, Hamilton went for the fourth down conversion with a quick pass to Brody Pendley.
The senior receiver pulled down the pass, picking up a first down for the Aggies and moving the ball to the Hamilton 34. Bryant Loving carried to midfield a snap later after scrambling out of a collapsing pocket.
The Aggies found pay dirt on the next play call as Bryant Loving connected with McKenley Cochran for a 50-yard touchdown reception. Chasing points, the Aggies opted for the two-point conversion, but the attempt was no good, leaving the score at 27-18 with 3:43 left in the game.
With the win, the Lions improve their seasonal record to 4-3 on the year and 1-2 in Class 4A, Region 5 play.
The loss drops the Aggies to 3-4 on the season and 2-2 in Class 4A, Region 5 competition.
This week, the Aggies are set to travel to Gordo High School to face off against the 5-1 Green Wave.