COLLINSVILLE — The North Sand Mountain football team’s historic season ended on a tough but valiant note.
NSM matched scores with No. 3-ranked Collinsville in the first half before the Panthers used a late defensive score to seal a 37-28 win in the Class 2A state quarterfinals Friday at CHS’ Chad Hawkins Stadium.
The game was rematch of a Class 2A Region 8 Collinsville 54-28 victory back on Sept. 6.
Collinsville (12-1) advanced to the state semifinals for a rematch at Region 8 champion, the defending state champion and No. 1 Fyffe (13-0). The Red Devils, who defeated No. 4 Red Bay 45-6 last Friday, beat Collinsville 24-3 on Sept. 13.
Meanwhile, NSM finished 9-4 after making the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history. The nine wins also tie the single-season school record for wins in a season.
“Hats off to our kids,” said NSM head coach Keith Kirby. “I thought our kids fought, fought hard, all the way to the bitter end. I thought they had a heck of a year. I feel like we’ve set the bar higher for the next group coming in. Gives everybody something to work for. It can be done...they got us to the third round, place the school had never been. That’s something they can hang their hat on.”
NSM senior quarterback Landon Green finished 12-of-21 passing for 252 yards and four touchdowns. Culpepper finished with four catches for 137 yards and two scores for the Bison while Damon Gentle had 86 rushing yards on 13 carries and caught two passes for 40 yards.
Michael Tucker ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries for Collinsville, which was outgained in total yards by NSM 387 to 294.
“We started off the year rough, was struggling, but we bounded together midway through the year,” Green said. “We decided we were going to get stuff straight and go out and best we could be every day. It was a nice ride. We set the standards high for (the program).”
Green’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Lake Bell on fourth-and-goal and the first of Tyler Scott’s four PATs gave NSM a 7-0 lead with 6:03 left in the opening quarter. After Collinsville tied the game at 7-all on Malachi Orr’s 19-yard touchdown run an Jason Perez’s PAT, Green found Cade McBryar for a 39-yard touchdown pass to put the Bison in front 14-7 after one quarter. Collinsville tied it at 14-all on Michael Tucker’s 1-yard touchdown run and then took a 21-14 lead on Tucker’s 7-yard run that followed Bison fumble. Green’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Culpepper with 3:43 left in the half pulled NSM even at 21-all, but Perez kicked a 35-yard field goal 18 seconds remaining in the half to give the Panthers a 24-21 halftime lead.
Collinsville pushed its lead to 30-21 on quarterback Kaleb Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter, but NSM ultimately pulled to with 30-28 on Green’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Culpepper with 5:20 remaining.
NSM then forced the Panthers to punt on their ensuing possession, but Jones returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown to seal Collinsville's first trip to the state semifinals since 1983.
Friday’s game was the finale for 11 NSM seniors whom Kirby said went out in style.
“Even though we didn’t reach the ultimate goal of the state championship,” McBryar said, “it’s an amazing feeling knowing we're the first to get (to the quarterfinals).”