Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers | Canva
Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers | Canva

While Hillcrest's strategy for how it wanted to open the AHSAA 6A playoffs at home didn't exactly fit how the team drew it up in preparation, in-game adjustments and an excellent defensive effort allowed the Pats to survive and advance past St. Paul's, 20-6.

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Whatever energy the home crowd had on a chilly Friday evening with constant light rain was stifled momentarily as Hillcrest faced its first deficit of the year after one Saints drive. What would end up being the day's longest drive for St. Paul's, 11 plays in 5:05 minutes, only resulted in a 24-yard field goal from juinor Drew Ginsberg (2-for-2 FG).

The Patriots quickly responded with a drive of their own, highlighted by a 52-yard rush from Travaris Banks to set up fellow senior rusher Jayshon Land for a three-yard score.

Defense from both teams started to set the game's tone as Hillcrest's Barkley Crawford caught his first of two interceptions of the game on the very next drive. After back-to-back punts, the Patriots' Bryson Kimbrough was also picked off as his connection with senior receiver Decorrion Thomas was tipped and eventually snagged by Jaboris Stone of St. Paul's.

Two more drives ended in punts before the Saints' junior quarterback Braxton Bryd let another go into the hands of Crawford. Byrd's third of the evening was caught by senior DB Cederic Buckner Jr. with just over a minute remaining the the first half.

The rainy conditions proved to be a challenge for both offenses; however, the elements, combined with crafty special teams play, nearly gave St. Paul's the second half momentum early as the opening kick was muffed and picked up by the Saints on HHS's 25 yard line.

With a shortened field, St. Paul's was again only able to capitalize with a field goal - its last score of the game. The Patriots missed a 23-yard field goal with a chance to respond on the next drive, but the mood was set.

Hillcrest's second-half plan was clear and effective, putting together long, steady drives consisting of runs to kill clock against a team whose best players have key roles on both sides of the ball.

Besides its quarterback, the Pats went through a stable of five different ball carriers to keep fresh legs in the game and defenders on their heels.

Down 13-6 with 6:39 remaining, it was seemingly decided on the St. Paul's sideline that punting on fourth and eleven gave the Saints the best odds at winning the road playoff matchup. The decision aimed at giving St. Paul's defense some breathing room drove the nail into the coffin when Patriots special teamer Kamari Patton recovered the blocked punt in the endzone to make the score 20-6 with 4:18 remaining.

Closing the game, the Saint's Byrd was sacked twice in the final drive that ended with an incompletion on fourth and nine.

What's next?

The Patriot's run in the 2023 AHSAA 6A playoffs continues next Friday as it hosts the Helena Huskies (8-2). Helena defeated Wetumpka (5-5) at home to advance Thursday, 58-28

Tide 100.9 | WTBC 1230 AM's continued coverage of the 2023 high school football season in West Alabama is proudly presented by Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers.

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