By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
After struggling through a three-game losing streak, Gadsden City limped home to face Grissom last Friday (Oct. 10).
Homecoming is just what the local team needed.
The Titans, shorthanded following several key injuries, played inspired football as they blasted Grissom, 47-23, last Friday night in Class 6A, Region 7 action.
Gadsden City (5-3, 4-2) stayed alive for a playoff spot with the win, using its offense, defense and special teams to overcome a few key mistakes and a feisty Tiger squad.
“What it’s become is, it’s a mental thing with the kids,” Gadsden City coach Joe Billingsley said of his team’s 12 penalties for negative-120 yards. “We don’t want to take the aggressiveness out of the kids. We just take what the refs tell us. We aren’t doing the little things. I’m pleased with the kids’ effort. We attacked and gave good effort.”
Penalties have been an issue for Gadsden City most of the season. And while the flags were crucial Friday, the Titans’ offensive explosion more than made up for it.
In fact, the penalties kept the game as close as it was. Gadsden City twice had touchdowns called back because of the flags.
It wasn’t just the penalties that kept the score from getting more out of hand. On two occasions, the Titans turned over the ball inside the Grissom 20-yard line.
The way the Gadsden City offense and defense was rolling, it did not matter.
Quarterback C.J. Moore more than made up for the absence of starting running back Chris Lawrence.
Lawrence – who had rushed for 670 yards on a 10.6 yard-per-carry average, and eight touchdowns – broke his ankle and is lost for the season.
Moore picked up the slack in the rushing game, carrying six times for 70 yards and two touchdowns against Grissom. Moore also completed 6-of-12 passes for 122 yards and another score.
The passing touchdown was a 28-yard strike to Jordan Veasy in the first quarter. Austin Piazza’s PAT made the score 8-7 with 7:32 left in the first quarter.
Gadsden City scored again with 7:32 left in the first half, when Moore ran in from five yards out. Piazza’s kick was missed, leaving the score, 13-8. The Titans would not relinquish the lead after that.
Following a possession by each team, Gadsden City got another big play – this time from its defense, when Tyreek Williams returned an interception for another score.
Grissom had run screen passes early in the game, but on the play, Williams beat the ball to the spot, snatching the improbable interception.
Williams has his right arm in a cast, but he still managed to leap and catch the ball, returning it 16 yards for the score. Piazza’s PAT increased the Titans lead to 20-8 with 2:32 left in the second quarter.
“We worked on it and watched film on it,” Williams said. “We understood the play.
“It feels good, real good. But I owe it to my teammates. If they don’t get pressure on the quarterback, I don’t make the interception.”
Another issue for Gadsden City was its special teams play.
Grissom scored on a pair of two-point conversions and – following Williams’ interception return – on a 95-yard kickoff return by Eric Turner. The big play cut the Titans’ lead to 20-15 with 2:17 remaining in the half.
But Gadsden City had an answer right before halftime, going 65 yards on six plays. The Titans hit paydirt on LeGerald Malone’s 9-yard run. Piazza hit another point-after kick to increase the lead to 27-15 with :51.3 left in the quarter.
Gadsden City opened the second half with a Gabe Ford 10-yard touchdown run to make it 33-15 with 9:27 remaining in the third quarter. Piazza’s kick was wide right.
Grissom had an answer, getting scrambling 28-yard touchdown run by quarterback Charles Hill IV. The Tigers’ second two-point conversion cut the score to 33-23.
It would be Grissom’s final score, although the Tigers did make it interesting when they went for and recovered an onside attempt on the ensuing kick.
The Titans scored on two of its next three possessions, putting the game out of reach. Malone scored his second touchdown of the game, this time on a 32-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter. David Webb added the PAT for a 40-23 lead.
Jaiye Miller scored Gadsden City’s final touchdown on a 4-yard run late in the fourth quarter. Webb tacked on the PAT for the final score.
On the game’s final play, the Titans’ Braylon Willis grabbed an interception, and outran Grissom’s attempt to tackle him, for an apparent 96-yard touchdown. The play was called back when Gadsden City was flagged for a block in the back.
The Titans’ defense had a stellar effort, holding Grissom to 246 yards of offense – 117 yards rushing and 129 yards passing.
Hill led the Tigers (2-6, 1-5) with 78 yards rushing, while completing 9-of-24 passes for 129 yards.
Gadsden City had 424 yards total offense, with 289 of those yards coming on the ground.
Ford ran for 64 yards on 10 carries. Malone had seven carries for 45 yards.
Gadsden City hosts region rival Huntsville on Friday. A win and the Titans would get one of the region’s four playoff berths, although it will depend on the outcome of other games to determine the spot.