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Why This Game Actually Means Something

As previously mentioned, my beloved alma mater will be playing for the state title Friday night in Legion Field. For the past 40 years, that has been the one thing that has eluded one of the proudest programs in the state of Alabama.

On November 29, 1968, the Russellville Golden Tigers, in the middle of a 44-game unbeaten streak, destroyed the Saks Wildcats 51-13 to win the Alabama Class 3A State Championship. Since that day, the Golden Tigers have not won a state title since. But there have been many close calls, some of which get more disgusting as time goes on…

1981 2nd round-Hartselle 20, Russellville 18. Russellville travelled to meet the defending Class 3A runners up. The Golden Tigers led throughout, but late in the game and clinging to an 18-14 lead, the Golden Tigers allowed Hartselle to hit a long pass that led to a late TD. The Golden Tigers failed to respond, and Hartselle went on to lose their 2nd straight state championship game two weeks later to Eufaula.

1987, Class 5A State Championship Game-Greenville 21, Russellville 20-Probably the most sickening near-miss of all-time. Russellville’s defense in 1987 was awesome. Russellville had given up a total of 66 points in 14 games going into the state title game, many coming against the backups. A halfback pass late in the 3rd quarter gave Russellville a 7-0 lead, and seemingly a state title. However, Greenville returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to tie the score. From there, Russellville got one shot to win it. A field goal was missed wide (although everyone that was at the game swears the ball was just inside the right upright) that would have won it for Russellville, and the game went into OT. In the 2nd overtime, a missed extra point gave Greenville all the momentum they would need. A 7-yard TD run by Cyrus Smith and the ensuing extra point gave Greenville a 21-20 win and the 1987 5A State Title.

1992 Class 5A State Championship Game-Blount 29, Russellville 15-Nobody will ever know what would have happened, but a gunshot rang out late in the 3rd quarter with the score tied at 15. After that, the Leopards jumped Russellville, outscoring the Golden Tigers 14-0 in the 4th quarter and winning Blount its second of five state titles. This game was considered one of the reasons the current Super 6 format (all the state title games played in Birmingham rather than on campus) was put in a few years later.

1993 2nd Round of the Playoffs-Oxford 19, Russellville 18-One of the forgotten games of Russellville lore, but Oxford eventually won the state title. Their closest call came in the 2nd round at Golden Tiger Stadium in Russellville. Leading 19-12 late, the Yellow Jackets were called for a personal foul that allowed Russellville to score a touchdown. Eschewing the tie, Coach Don Cox called for a 2-point play and the win. It failed, and Oxford survived en route to their state title.

1994 state semifinals-Homewood 14, Russellville 7-The first (but certainly not the last) time the Patriots show up. A loaded Golden Tiger team was the prohibitive favorite going into the game. However, a late interception gave the Patriots excellent field position and the go-ahead TD. However, the Golden Tigers fought back, and had a late 4th-and-1 inside the Homewood 20. The Patriots stopped Russellville running back Charles Hamilton just short of the first down, giving possession, the game, and the 5A North title to Homewood.

2000 state semifinals-Homewood 28, Russellville 10-The Cinderella season of Russellville ended that night. After back-to-back heartstoppers (10-7 over Cullman and 7-6 over Walker), Russellville could not make the stops when needed against Homewood, who was able to stop 3 RHS drives inside the 40. Homewood would go onto win the state championship in perhaps the best game ever played at the Super 6

2001 state semifinals-Homewood 31, Russellville 21-Uggh. Three gift TDs gives Homewood a 24-7 lead, a lead the Patriots hold onto en route to their 2nd straight state title game appearance. Give Homewood credit, they were good, but damn those 3 turnovers (one returned for a TD, one giving Homewood the ball inside the Russellville 20, the other at the Russellville 5) hurt. Homewood would go on to lose to Benjamin Russell in the state title game.

2002 Class 5A State Championship Game-Homewood 31, Russellville 28-Not much to say here. Jake Tompkins still holds the Super 6 record for passing yards, completions, percentage, and TDs in a state title game. And it didn’t mean anything, because we couldn’t stop them when need be, and they had a kicker that could hit a 50-yard field goal, and we didn’t. Another sickening loss, because the ’02 team is probably the best team in Russellville history. The offense certainly was.

2003 Class 5A State Championship Game-Briarwood Christian 31, Russellville 7-Maurice McCulloch broke the first play of the game for an 83-yard TD run and gave Russellville a 7-0 lead. It all went downhill from there. Russellville could not get Briarwood off the field, and could not make the plays needed. Briarwood simply outclassed us that night, and would have any other night. This one really doesn’t hurt as most of the ones above.

2004 Class 5A State Championship Game-Homewood 35, Russellville 21-We had chances early, but didn’t take advantage. Unfortunately for us, Homewood woke up sometime in the 2nd quarter, and from there it was academic. The effort was there that night, but much like the year before, we ran into the better team. No real hurt there.

2005 Class 5A State Semifinals-Buckhorn 17, Russellville 13-A scant two years earlier, Buckhorn had been the laughingstock of class 5A. Two years later, they went to the State Championship (where they got absolutely destroyed). En route to that, former Russellville standout and assistant coach Michael Jackson got one of his sweetest wins, a 17-13 upset over his alma mater. The game was a physical domination, with Russellville’s offense being completely bottled up. Still, the Golden Tigers drove inside the Bucks 10 with under a minute left. However, an interception on 2nd-and-goal ended Russellville’s hopes.

2006 Class 5A State Quarterfinals-J.O. Johnson 19, Russellville 14-UGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH. The entire state was down that year, including us. Still, Russellville won the best region in the state that year, 5A Region 8 and had homefield throughout the playoffs. However, a key injury to defensive tackle Casey Morgan (who had been the undisputed MVP of the game against the Jags in Huntsville that year) limited our defense, and Jag quarterback David Isabelle was able to scramble almost at will. Still, Russellville held a 14-13 lead late, and looked to be en route to another state runner-up finish. Then, an out-of-bounds kickoff and a 35-yard scramble gave the Jags all the momentum they’d need. Johnson scored to go up 19-14, and held Russellville on downs to clinch a semifinal appearance. A game they’d lose to Athens 21-18 despite having the ball three times inside the 20. Athens, a team Russellville beat 32-19 in the regular season and who hasn’t beaten Russellville since 2000, won the damn thing.

As you can see, Russellville has been on the cusp of either the state title or state championship game TWELVE times since the last state title. And hasn’t won one yet. THAT is why this game means something. Well, that, and some #13 guy for Russellville.

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