FLORENCE — Florence football was not without the type of plays that can win a tough game Friday night.
Dee Beckwith ran for four touchdowns. Andrew Baugh shook off a defensive back’s interference to make a long catch. Tabarius Thompson forced a fumble Artavious Whiteside recovered. AJ Lee intercepted a tipped pass in the third quarter. Carson Casteel recovered a third-quarter fumble.
But the last great play of the night involved Quincy Crittendon and Tre Shackelford, and they play for Austin.
Crittendon threw two late touchdown passes to Shackelford, the latter a 43-yarder with 37 seconds left Shackelford caught over a Florence defender’s head despite pass interference, and Austin beat Florence 30-25.
The host Falcons (1-2, 0-1 Class 7A, Region 4) led most of the night, but Austin’s final two drives – sandwiched around Beckwith’s fourth touchdown of the game – made the Class 7A, No. 9 Black Bears winners.
Florence got as far as its own 42 in the final drive, but Jaden Baker picked off a Gardner Flippo pass and Austin had beaten Florence again.
“It’s a painful deal. There’s really not a whole lot of words for them right now,” Florence coach Will Hester said. “We’ve got to use the pain of this disappointment to drive us for the remainder of the season.”
The Falcons did that last year, falling 17-9 to the Black Bears before rallying to earn a playoff bid.
The Falcons were left to lament a pair of interceptions, a turnover on downs, two failed extra point kicks and a penalty that nullified a two-point conversion, and a few minor lapses elsewhere.
“Our kids played their guts out. They made too many mistakes, and we lost to a good team tonight. But we made too many mistakes to beat them,” Hester said. “In 7A football, the margin is real tight.”
Austin drilled Hartselle by 31 and Decatur by 42 in the first two games.
“I’m proud of my guys. They fought. They fought through adversity,” Austin coach Jeremy Perkins said. “We needed it. We’ve had two blowout wins, and to come in the first region ballgame and had to fight tooth and nail to the end of the ballgame and make some plays, I’m proud of them.”
Jaylen Simpson, Javean Griffin and DeShawn Anderson all had modest gains running the ball, but Beckwith was Florence’s best running option. Unofficially, he totaled 135 rushing yards on 15 carries.
“(Beckwith) had a great night,” Perkins said. “He had a career night tonight. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for Coach Hester and the job that they do at Florence.”
The teams traded leads early. Austin’s Temo Vazquez hit a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter, but Beckwith’s first touchdown plunge came early in the second. Austin went back ahead 10-6 whey Awysum Harris returned a Flippo interception about 25 yards for a score.
Beckwith’s second TD run capped a 65-yard drive late in the half, and Thompson’s strip of Crittendon kept Florence in the lead at half, 13-10.
Lee’s interception of Crittendon on Austin’s second drive after halftime set the Falcons up at the 17, and Beckwith scored from eight yards out for a 19-10 lead.
But Austin answered immediately with a 55-yard touchdown as Crittendon threw a short pass for Jevon Jackson and Jackson outran the Falcons downfield.
Casteel’s fumble recovery quickly followed a Jaylon Barrett onside kick recovery, but Florence went three-and-out.
Austin scored on its final two drives, the latter coming right after Beckwith’s last TD run. It started with 1:57 left.
Florence visits Bob Jones next, and Austin travels to Gadsden City.