By Maurice Patton
SMITHVILLE – Spring Hill scored the first nine points of its Class 4A playoff matchup at DeKalb County, and the Raiders scored the final six points Friday night.
In between, though, the host Tigers scored five touchdowns and added a field goal for a decisive 38-15 victory, advancing into a second-round matchup next week against Nolensville.
“We had something for them early on,” Spring Hill coach Ben Martin said after his team finished a 3-6 season. “But we gave up a couple of big plays, big passes that took us out of it.
“Our defense has played hard. I’m proud of them. We just got a little worn down.”
DeKalb County (7-3), the Region 3-4A champion, stumbled out of the gate. Pinned down near their goal line after a 48-yard Brett Hughes punt, the hosts found themselves trailing 2-0 less than three minutes into the contest when on first down, senior Avery Worstell sacked quarterback Axel Aldino for a safety.
“That was great, to start the game,” said Worstell, a former all-Region 4-4A selection for the Raiders who left the team prior to the beginning of the season but returned after Week 4. “I think we probably got complacent after that and got lax. We still played hard, but they stepped up.”
Spring Hill continued to win the battle of field position, taking advantage of the first in a series of errant shotgun snaps to force DeKalb into a punt from deep in its own territory and converting a fourth-and-10 with a Luka Boylan 30-yard pass to Jaylen Rucker for a 9-0 cushion at the 5:55 mark of the opening quarter.
From there, though, the Tigers scored on three of its next four possessions – getting on the scoreboard when Aldino kept his feet long enough to dump the ball off to Nathaniel Crook for a 30-yard touchdown, taking the lead on an Aldino 2-yard run and extending the margin just before halftime on a 1-yard Aldino run.
That last score altered the complexion of the game, as Spring Hill drove into the red zone and lined up for a field goal before the Tigers were called offsides to set up a fourth-and-3 from the 6-yard line. After gaining just two yards, the visitors turned the ball over and DeKalb went the length of the field – getting 66 yards on an Aldino pass to T.J. Alexander before the quarterback scored to complete a potential 14-point swing.
“I think we did start a little slow,” DeKalb County coach Steve Trapp said. “We knew they were really athletic on the defensive side of the ball.
“We had some guys make some big-time plays in some big-time moments. ‘Dino’ did a good job for us. We look at – what’s our matchup? Is it the quick, controlled passing game, or (are we against) a team that leaves a lot of grass on the back end? Our offensive line allowed us some time, Dino made some good reads and we made some plays.”
DeKalb County had five plays from scrimmage of 30 yards or more, including four pass plays, all in the opening half.
A couple of second-half turnovers thwarted any comeback hopes for Spring Hill, as the hosts added two rushing touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter.
On the final play of the game, senior Landen Secrest broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown.
“I’m really glad Landen got that last touchdown,” Martin said. “He’s meant more to this team than any stat sheet will show. He’s always done the right thing. He’s just an incredible young man.”
Secrest, who lined up at running back, receiver and tight end Friday, finished with a team-high 69 rushing yards on four carries.
“I didn’t know if we were going to get the play off, but I knew he was going to get me a run on that last play,” Secrest said. “Once I looked up and saw green grass, I started crying myself.
“That was (former Spring Hill assistant Will Fisher). He died my sophomore year. He told me I was going to be something special. That was for him.”
The Raiders were ultimately unable to sustain success on either side of the ball for extended periods.
“On offense, we just didn’t ‘click’ enough,” Martin said. “Our run game spurted some, and that helped our passing game. We just couldn’t find that rhythm we needed.”
DeKalb Co. 38, Spring Hill 15
at Vanhooser Memorial Stadium
SH 9 0 0 6 – 15
DC 7 14 0 17 – 38
|SH – Safety: Avery Worstell tackled Axel Aldino in end zone (9:23)|
|SH – Jaylen Rucker 30 pass from Luka Boylan (5:55), Brett Hughes kick|
|DC – Nathaniel Crook 30 pass from Aldino (4:15), Jasper Kleparick kick|
|DC – Aldino 2 run (11:53), Kleparick kick|
|DC – Aldino 1 run (0:08), Kleparick kick|
|DC – Colby Barnes 4 run (10:57), Kleparick kick|
|DC – Kleparick 20 field goal (5:50)|
|DC – Aldino 1 run (0:32), Kleparick kick|
|SH – Landen Secrest 65 run (0:00), no attempt|
|Spring Hill – Landen Secrest 4-69, Mac Richie 15-51, Luka Boylan 3-5, Kaiden Martin 2-8, Donte Prowell 3-34|
|DeKalb Co. – Axel Aldino 16-32, Colby Barnes 13-111, Nathaniel Crook 10-62, Team 4-(85)|
|Spring Hill – Luka Boylan 7-21-2 55|
|DeKalb Co. – Axel Aldino 8-17-0 210|
|Spring Hill – Jaylen Rucker 1-30, Donte Prowell 1-2, Mac Richie 2-9, Landen Secrest 1-6, Kaiden Martin 1-2, Remone Kelley 1-6|
|DeKalb Co. – Desmond Nokes 5-100, T.J. Alexander 2-80, Nathaniel Crook 1-30|