SAM COWAN – Sports Writer
The Whitwell Tigers beat the Huntland Hornets 20-6 on the road Friday in their first game of the season.
The Tigers took the lead on the opening possession and held it for the rest of the night to open their 2023 campaign with a victory.
Whitwell head football coach Rocky Stephenson said that his team didn’t play a flawless game, but he was proud of the overall effort against a tough opponent.
“We made a lot of mistakes, which first games are usually like that. It was a hard-fought win for us,” he said. “I’m just proud of my guys right now. They battled. The effort was really good, so we’ve just got to improve next week and keep moving forward.”
The Tigers opened the contest with a 77-yard drive which ended in a touchdown run by Wyatt Davis. A successful point-after attempt gave Whitwell a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the opening period.
The Hornets brought the ball into enemy territory on their first possession, but a fumble was recovered by Theron Mordecai for a turnover and returned to Huntland’s 36-yard line.
The Tigers moved the ball inside of Huntland’s 10-yard line on the ensuing possession before an interception on fourth down gave the ball back to the Hornets at their own 5-yard line.
The Hornets then drove all the way down to Whitwell’s 1-yard line, but a fumble on a fourth-down run was recovered by the Tigers to end the scoring opportunity.
A personal foul was called against the Tigers after the play with Davis being ejected from the game as a result of the penalty.
Backed up to within a half-yard of their own end zone to start their next drive, the Tigers went all the way down the field and ended the 99-yard possession with a touchdown run by Bennett McDougal to put the score at 13-0 in the final minute of the first half.
The Tigers led 13-0 at halftime.
The Hornets started the second half with the ball and were forced to punt the ball back to Whitwell.
However, the Tigers gave the ball right back a few minutes later as an interception set up the Hornets at Whitwell’s 44-yard line.
The Hornets were only able to pick up one first down on their ensuing drive before turning the ball over on downs, and the Tigers were then able to move inside of Huntland’s 10-yard line again on their next possession before they also turned the ball over on downs in the final seconds of the third quarter.
The Hornets then put together their lone scoring drive of the day as the 92-yard possession ended in a touchdown run to make it a 13-6 game with about 10 minutes remaining.
The Tigers answered back quickly as they worked their way down the field before Bennett McDougal capped off the 73-yard drive by powering the ball into the end zone on a short run to grow the lead back up to 20-6 with 6:23 left on the clock.
The Hornets seemed poised to score again as they quickly brought the ball down to Whitwell’s 23-yard line on their ensuing possession, but four straight incompletions followed to give the ball back to Whitwell with four minutes to go.
The Tigers ran about three minutes off the clock before punting the ball back to the Hornets, and an interception caught by Bennett McDougal in the end zone as time expired sealed the 14-point victory for Whitwell.
With the win, the Tigers started their season with a record of 1-0.
They will next play Friday at home against Greenback High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Sam Cowan and Kristie Eggert photos