A Rivalry Renewed
For many years, Tuscaloosa County vs. Central was one of the biggest rivalries in the state of Alabama. So big in fact that Bryant-Denny Stadium was the host of the high school showdown. But, after Central split in 2003 to form Northridge and Paul W. Bryant High School, the rivalry slowly faded away. After a final regular season meeting in 2003, the Wildcats and Falcons played in a jamboree game in 2007 and that was it until 2022 when the Wildcats dominated the Falcons 44-0. Tonight though was a different story.
First year head coach Demario Pippen had his Falcons ready to play against the Adam Winegarden led Wildcats. Central started the game with a three and out, then junior Jay Eatmon blocked the Falcon punt giving County High a short field. Senior running back Kevin Riley (who is committed to The University of Miami) had two hard runs down to the three-yard line before the Falcon defense tightened up. Junior quarterback Braeden Smith snuck in on a fourth down to give the Wildcats a 7-0 early lead in the first quarter.
The defense would then take over as the teams traded punts the rest of the first quarter. Central finally got the ball rolling and senior quarterback David Mcneil took it in himself from four yards out. The game was all even at seven. Defense remained king until Mcneil found wide receiver Braylon Smith from six yards out, giving Central a 14-7 lead going into the half after two costly personal foul calls on the Wildcat defense.
Defense remained dominant throughout the second half until Smith hit sophomore running back Chardarius Hutchins on a wheel route for a forty-five yard gain setting up the Wildcats inside the Falcons ten-yard line. Two plays later, Riley punched it in from seven yards out to tie the game at 14 with six minutes remaining. The Wildcat defense turned up the intensity and forced another Falcon punt. Hutchins once again set the tone with a huge 28-yard run on the first play of the drive. Two plays later, Riley gives the Wildcats the lead with a 19 yard touchdown up the middle. Down 21-14 and three minutes remaining, coach Pippen had his team ready.
"We put our team through what we call chaos during practice and workouts. So in the fourth quarter its nothing new to them when things get hard," said Pippen. McNeil had his best drive of the night with a big run for a first down before finding wide receiver Jalen Powell from 34 yards out to tie it back up at 21. This game was truly one for the ages.
With 1:04 seconds remaining, Tuscaloosa County marched down the field with the help of facemask penalty and a great throw from Smith to senior Roman Wright. Riley gets a run down to the 19-yard line and, with an offsides penalty, kicker Junior Solis drilled a 31-yard field goal to walk it off 24-21, the Wildcats over the Falcons.
"We didn't play our best game but you have to give Central credit. They fought hard and played a great game," said Windegarden. "We played like it was the first game and Junior got us the win its something he's practiced a thousand times."
Coach Pippen was extremely proud of the way his team played. "When I first got here [Central], it was about shifting the guys mentally and we saw that tonight," said Pippen.
Tuscaloosa County (1-0) takes on Bessemer City next week at home. While Central (0-1) travels to Woodlawn.
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