MUSCLE SHOALS — One week after injuring his neck in a scary scene that resulted in being carted off and rushed away to the hospital, Muscle Shoals running back Tyler Jackson admitted to being a little hesitant in his return Friday night.
The Trojans’ standout running back had every right to be protective against Hartselle and its trademark hard-hitting defense.
“Yeah, I kind of wanted to protect it a little bit, and I kind of got out of that mode and started going after it,” Jackson said.
Boy, did he ever.
Last week’s setback, a herniated disc, did nothing to slow Jackson, who accounted for four touchdowns in a 49-21 drubbing of Hartselle in a Class 5A quarterfinal at James F. Moore Stadium. With the win, the top-ranked Trojans (13-0) advance to next week’s semifinals against McAdory.
“Monday, Tyler got his MRI and was determined to come back and practice,” Muscle Shoals coach Scott Basden said. “We held him out of contact, and I’m glad to see everything turned out so well in his return. This win is just a testament to these kids. I can’t say enough about them. I’m very proud of them.”
Jackson rushed for 56 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 138 yards and two more scores.
“Going into the game, I knew they were going to try and hit me and hurt it a little bit more,” Jackson said. “But I just had to keep fighting through it.”
Jackson’s efforts made sure this contest wouldn’t be as tense as the Trojans’ last meeting with Hartselle. In a regular-season clash in October, Muscle Shoals scored the game-winner in the closing seconds in a thrilling 28-21 victory.
This time, the Trojans scored on their first two possessions while Hartselle’s offense uncharacteristically sputtered. Jamarcus Nance accounted for 46 of Muscle Shoals’ 53 total yards on its opening possession — capped by Nance’s 2-yard touchdown run — and Jackson finished off a 12-play drive with a 14-yard scoring run late in the first quarter. Blake Logan converted both PATs, and the Trojans led 14-0 with four seconds left in the first quarter.
Then, after Hartselle went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, Muscle Shoals all but sealed the win. With Hartselle punting near its own end zone, Muscle Shoals’ Levi Fell raced around the edge, blocked the attempt and scooped up the ball at the goal line. Muscle Shoals led by three touchdowns five seconds into the second quarter and tacked on another score five minutes later when Jackson caught a 33-yard, highlight-reel touchdown pass that he juggled in the end zone.
“We felt like last week that we didn’t really play good,” Basden said of his team’s 22-21 victory over Pinson Valley. “We just felt tense and were sort of pressing for things. This week, it was all about playing loose and relaxed. When we do that, we’re a pretty good football team.”
Hartselle got a 61-yard touchdown run from Blake Slayton with less than a minute remaining in the first half and an 11-play scoring drive in the third quarter that resembled those that fueled the Tigers to the state title a year ago, but this one was never close. Slayton finished with a game-high 146 yards, with 56 of them coming on a long run against Muscle Shoals’ second-teamers late in the fourth quarter.
Jackson scored two more times in the fourth quarter. Nance ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
“Muscle Shoals came out hot and got things rolling. Really nothing went our way, and that’s an attribute to them. We’ll learn from this and move on,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said.