They made costly mistakes in the first half but came up big late in a game in which Class 4A Cleburne County trailed 2A Lineville by more than two touchdowns twice, including a 27-14 deficit in the fourth quarter.
Hayes was beat in man-to-man coverage on the game’s longest play from scrimmage, a 61-yard touchdown pass from Lineville quarterback Demetrius Lindsey to QT Ward that put the Aggies ahead 20-7 with 10:23 left to play in the second quarter.
Walker’s blunder, a fumble on the Aggies’ 2-yard line with 1:03 remaining in the second, cost the Tigers a scoring opportunity and a chance to pull to within single digits, and they went into halftime down 13.
“I was disappointed in myself,” Walker said his fumble in the first half. “But I didn’t give up. I knew we could still do it. My body was cramping up, but I knew I had to make up for it.”
Hayes and Walker made up for their follies in the fourth quarter as the Tigers overcame a double-digit lead to emerge a one-point victor.
Hayes scored the final two touchdowns during a 5:17 second stretch of the fourth to catapult Cleburne County to the win. First, he dove for a two-yard score off left tackle with 6:17 to remaining to put the finishing touch on the Tiger’s most impressive drive of the game. They strung together five consecutive first downs, going 75 yards in 2:18 to move the score to 27-20.
Then, on a second-and-goal from Lineville’s 7, Hayes took a short screen pass from Tigers quarterback Matt Norton turned up field. He nearly fell near the 4 but broke his fall with his hand as his knee almost touched the ground. Once he regained his balance he turned the corner toward the sideline and dove in the end zone, clipping the right pylon on tie the game at 27 with 1:10 left to play.
Cleburne County place kicker Blake Price converted his fourth and final point-after attempt, blasting it high through the uprights to give the Tigers their seventh victory in 13 meetings with the Aggies and fifth in the past seven.
“Heflin and Lineville has always been a big rivalry,” Hayes said. “We kind of determine our season by how we play against Lineville.”
Hayes, who finished with 62 yards rushing on 15 carries and three receptions for 26 yards, may have never gotten a chance to score the game-tying touchdown, had it not been for Walker.
Lineville got the on its 9 following Hayes’s first touchdown and looked to plod along and run the clock out. The Aggies, ranked No. 9, in the Alabama Sports Writers Association preseason poll, picked up a first down on a pass from Lindsey to Emanuel Hunter. However a penalty and a run that went for nothing and incomplete pass left them with a fourth-and-16 from.
Walker was able to break though the Aggie line and get his hand in on Ward’s punt attempt. Benton Cooley recovered the block at the Lineville 21 to set up the game’s final scoring drive.
Walker scored his first touchdown with 8:21 to go in the first that put Cleburne County ahead 7-0 with a Price extra point.
Then Lindsey went to work, completing four of eight passes for 98 yards, including scoring strikes of 15, 22 and 61 yards to give his team a 20-7 halftime lead. He completed 6 of 13 attempts for 119 yards and rushed for a team-high 108 yards.
“We did well at first,” Lineville coach Steve Giddens. “Demetrius has got some experience back there at quarterback, and we tried to use the speed of our skill people early.”
Walker scored with 5:05 to play in the third before Curtis Hunter broke off a 51-yarder to put Lineville back up 27-14 with less than nine minutes to play.
“It was gut check time,” Cleburne County coach Michael Shortt said. “We know that this was the kind of game that can turn your whole season around. With all that happened wrong to us, we could’ve given up, but we didn’t.”
Norton completed nine of 13 attempts for 93 yards, and Tanner Howle had two interceptions for the Tigers.
Cleburne County travels to Anniston (0-1) next week while Lineville plays host to Ranburne in region play.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3575.