ABERDEEN – With their backs against the wall, the Hatley defense made a play that sparked their comeback and led to a game-winning drive on Friday night.

With Aberdeen up 18-14 and driving deep into Hatley territory, Jeremiah Metcalf recovered a fumble with three minutes to go, and the Tigers marched down the field to take the lead and the 21-18 win with 30 seconds to go.

Kade Starling’s fourth-down catch that tipped off an Aberdeen defender’s hands kept the drive alive, then Nick Washington scored the game-winner from four yards out.

“We got some big turnovers tonight. This game was one of those things where we didn’t do everything right, but you make plays and you have that opportunity,” Hatley coach Ken Adams said. “The catch on fourth down that was tipped, that’s huge because it’s a fourth down play. That’s just kids making plays, and we want to be in that position. We had defensive stops and drives when we had to have them. Aberdeen won the line of scrimmage, especially in the first half, but we put together a couple of drives.”

The Tigers got the opening kickoff around midfield and eventually took a 7-0 lead after Markhel Hunt’s 7-yard scoring run and Luke Moffett’s extra point.

The Bulldogs were quick to answer on a flea-flicker as Jermaine Strong took the shovel handoff from C.J. Arnold and hit William Johnson for a 52-yard scoring strike on the first play of the next drive. The two-point conversion failed to keep Hatley on top at 7-6.

The Bulldogs’ defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense came through again quickly. After a couple of short Xavier Young runs, Johnathan Moore found a big hole and raced 40 yards for the touchdown. Micah Turner made the stop on the two-point conversion run, but Aberdeen went up 12-7 with 3:54 left in the first.

Each team came up with a big play on defense as Jayden Walker ended Hatley’s next drive with a sack, and Malachi Denson recovered an Aberdeen fumble after that.

Hatley was forced to punt on its ensuing possession, but Alex Cooper came up with his first of two interceptions two plays later.

That sparked a long Hatley drive as Hunt and Washington each had big runs, and Washington capped off the possession with his two-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left in the second to make it 14-12 at the half.

The Bulldogs had the ball first in the third and took advantage of a Hatley penalty to keep their drive alive. Moore broke free again, this time on a 55-yard scoring run for the 18-14 lead with 10:34 left in the third.

Aberdeen had another promising drive late in the quarter, but Cooper snagged another pick to end that threat.

After a quick stop on defense, the Bulldogs looked to be back in business on the next drive. Arnold had a 32-yard keeper and also hit Isaac Watson for a big 35-yard reception to get deep in Hatley territory.

Metcalf’s fumble recovery came two plays later and halted Aberdeen’s threat to extend its lead.

“We got a good pass rush, and someone hit the quarterback,” Metcalf said. “I saw the ball and took advantage and jumped on it. I was excited. I feel like we came out here and played a great game tonight.”

The Tigers took over at their own 21-yard line, and Cooper raced for 41 yards to pick up most of their ground.

Starling’s fourth-down snag on the ball tipped by Johnson was the next big play.

“I thought we came out and played a better game than we have pretty much all year. We had some guys get hurt, and that’s no excuse,” Aberdeen coach Alex Williams said. “We lost two offensive linemen, which really hurt us, and we didn’t make plays at crucial times. We had a chance right there at an interception to end the game, and we didn’t make that play and they did. They made plays, and we didn’t. That’s what happens, and the way the cookie crumbles. Whoever makes the most plays is what it comes down to.”

Turner had a 16-yard catch on fourth down to keep things going again, and Washington came through the middle to score on his four-yard game-winner two plays later.

“That fumble flipped us around and really changed our attitude. It enabled us to come out here on offense and get it done,” Washington said. “It was tough because I was fumbling the ball at first, but I got my hands on it and saw the hole and hit it as hard as I could. Things worked out, and I’m so glad that we came out here and got it done. I’m proud of everyone on our team.”

Hunt made the tackle on the kickoff, and after a 17-yard keeper by Arnold, he sealed the win with an interception with just a few seconds to go.

Both teams continue division play and are on the road with Hatley at Noxubee County and Aberdeen at Houston.

“Where we want to be is 1-0 in the division, and we have three games left,” Adams said. “We have to continue to get better. Coach (Alex) Williams is doing a great job with them at Aberdeen.”

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