By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Writer
Even as Oak Mountain rolled through August and September with a 5-1 record, doubters quietly wondered if the Eagles were legitimate contenders for a long playoff run or merely riding a wave that will eventually come to a screeching crash.
While it was true enough that Coach Cris Bell’s team had collected some quality wins, there was still the shadow of the 35-0 blowout at the hands of top-ranked Hoover to consider. Optimists and skeptics alike seemed to agree that the Oct. 10 battle against a strong but snake-bitten Mountain Brook team would be a valid test of Oak Mountain’s legitimacy as a state power.
The Eagles answered the call and passed the test with flying colors. Neither the Spartans nor the weather could stop Oak Mountain from putting together a late touchdown drive with only 34 seconds remaining to take a dramatic 27-24 victory at Heardmont Park.
Harold Shader’s one-yard scoring run capped an eight-play, 57-yard drive to give the Eagles the victory.
The win lifted Oak Mountain’s record to 6-1 overall and, just as importantly, 4-1 in Class 7A, Region 3 competition. And perhaps most significantly, the victory made a statement about where the Eagle program stands in its third year under Bell’s leadership.
“We aren’t Joke Mountain anymore,” said quarterback Warren Shader, Harold’s brother. “This is a huge win for us and should allow us to host a playoff game for the first time in the history of the school. Our coaches talk to us about coming through in the clutch all the time, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Weather was a factor, as the game was halted for nearly an hour and a half in the fourth quarter–with Oak Mountain ahead 20-17—because of intense rain and lightning. But even Mother Nature wasn’t going to stop the Eagles.
The game had an up-and-down feel from the beginning. Warren Shader’s one-yard touchdown run gave his team a 6-0 lead with 4:44 remaining in the first quarter. Mountain Brook rallied with Hunter Richie’s 25-yard field goal as the period ended, cutting the margin to 6-3.
Oak Mountain extended its lead in the second period when Daniel Salchert ran 35 yards for a score. David Garner’s kick put the hosts ahead 14-3 with 5:18 remaining to play in the opening half.
But the Spartans had only begun to fight. Jacob Carroll passed five yards to John Eagan for a Mountain Brook touchdown with about three minutes remaining in the half. Ritchie’s conversion sliced the difference to 14-10.
The visitors weren’t finished. Carroll’s two-yard scoring strike to Hill Kirkland with five seconds on the clock gave the Spartans a 17-14 halftime advantage.
Oak Mountain regained the lead late in the third stanza when Warren Shader scored on an 11-yard run as the Eagles moved ahead 20-17.
After the fourth quarter rain delay, Mountain Brook appeared to have the early upper hand. The Spartan defense stopped Oak Mountain cold and then drove 60 yards for the go-ahead score. Facing a third and goal situation from the Eagle 15-yard line, Carroll scored on a 15-yard run, and Mountain Brook took a 24-20 lead with 5:59 left in the game.
After an exchange of punts, Oak Mountain had one last chance from its own 43 with three minutes to play.
After moving his team to the Spartans’ 44-yard line, Warren Shader passed to Rob Piper for a 30-yard gain as the clocked moved under the two minute mark. Harold Shader’s winning touchdown came moments later.
Bell could scarcely contain his elation at the end.
“It was one heck of a high school football game,” he said. “Piper had a huge catch for us. Take your hat off to Mountain Brook. Coach (Chris) Yeager does a great job. I’m so proud of what our guys did tonight.”
Carroll was outstanding for the Spartans, completing 18 of 26 passes for 141 yards and a pair of scores. Drew Odum had seven catches for 105 yards for the losing cause.
Warren Shader completed eight of 13 passes for 89 yards. He rushed for 72 yards, Harold Shader gained 59 yards and Salchert finished with 55.
Oak Mountain’s defense held the Mountain Brook runners to only 94 yards on 24 total carries.
Kylen Brown also starred for the Eagle defenders by intercepting a pass early in the third quarter to stop a Spartan drive and adding a key kick return in the final stanza.
As sweet as the win was for Oak Mountain, the verdict was another study in frustration for Mountain Brook. The Spartans lost to both Huntsville and James Clemens by virtue of last-second field goals before Friday’s heartbreak at Heardmont. Mountain Brook is arguably three plays away from a 6-1 record instead of 3-4.
Instead it’s Oak Mountain that has six wins and is headed toward a playoff berth. And while plenty of major tests remain, one thing is clear: The Eagles are the real deal.