By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Let’s not shovel any dirt on Gadsden City’s postseason chances just yet.
In one of the biggest upsets of the season and one of the biggest wins in the eight-year history of the program, the Titans scored 14 points off two turnovers in the second half en route to a 24-21 victory over second-ranked and previously unbeaten Clay-Chalkville on Friday at GCHS.
Gadsden City improved to 3-4 overall and more importantly, 3-2 in the Class 6A, Region 7 standings with two region games remaining. The Titans currently are tied with Pell City and Huntsville for third place, although Pell City holds the tiebreaker over Gadsden City. The Titans visit Huntsville on Oct. 25.
Not counting a 60-yard pass play near the end of the third quarter, Gadsden City limited the visitors to 103 total yards in the second half.
The Titan offense, meanwhile, kept its Cougar counterpart off field by producing 10 first downs. In its final three series, Gadsden City converted all six of its third down conversion attempts.
“As poorly as we played last week, our kids expected to win this game,” said GCHS head coach Matt Scott. “I think coming into this game, we’ve played three teams who were ranked in the top 6 and played them toe to toe. I know a lot of people are going to be surprised that we won tonight, but I don’t our guys are necessarily surprised.”
Scott stressed to his offense all week about the importance of moving the chains.
“I told our guys that we wouldn’t win if we went three-and-out a lot and kept our defense out there, we’d have problems. [Clay-Chalkville] has one of the best offense in the state, and if someone has a better set of skill players, I’d like to see [that team]. So we’ve played a totally different style of offense tonight then we had been doing. This week we made the read stuff a focal point. We gave [Clay-Chalkville] a lot of wrinkles off that and I think it gave them some trouble.
“But the main thing I’m proud of is that we physically overtook the game in the second half. I’m not much into trickery, and sometimes you;ve just got to line and physically beat someone, and that’s what did tonight.”
Trailing 21-10 at the start of the third quarter, the hosts were in danger of digging a deeper hole for themselves after an international grounding penalty led to a punt on the second half’s first possession. The GCHS defense wasn’t on the sidelines for long, however.
Six plays into the ensuing drive, the Titans recovered a fumble at the Cougar 42. Following a five-yard penalty, the hosts moved 27 yards in seven plays to the Clay 20.
On third down and 12, Deramus and Rudolph connected for a 11 yard pass to the 1. Rudolph took it in the end zone on the next play, and David Webb’s extra point pulled GCHS within 21-17 at the 2:15 mark of the third period.
Clay-Chalkville (6-1, 4-1) got to the Titan 30 on the next series courtesy of a 60-yard pass from Darryien Wilson to Brian Clark.
The Cougars got no further, as two plays later junior linebacker Blair Edwards recovered a fumble at the 39. The GCHS offense cashed in on the big play 11 plays later on Rudolph’s 15-yard touchdown run. Webb’s PAT gave Gadsden City its first lead at 24-21 at 7:13 of the fourth quarter.
Clay-Chalkville responded with an 11-play, 46-yard series that consumed more than five minutes of clock time.
But the possession went for naught, as Patrick Millican’s 24-yard field goal attempt was no good.
With just under two minutes left, the home crowd could sense the victory, and the Titan offense closed the deal when Gabe Ford ran for 16 yards and Rudolph scampered for 15 more to run out the clock.
In his first complete game as a starter, sophomore quarterback Ahmad DeRamus completed 6-of-10 passes for 73 yards. He also rushed for a team-high 88 yards on 14 carries.
“Ahmad’s done a grew job since I’v been here, and up to tonight we’ve used him in different situations as a change-up,” said Scott. “He’s a competitor who’s going to battle and make plays.”
Scott also pointed to depth at the running back position as a key factor in the win.
“We’ve got Dante Rudolph, Rodney Bozeman, Gabe Ford and Bubba Blount all coming in, and you can keep throwing those backs at them and just wear them down. Dante didn’t play that much in the first half, so when he came out in the second half, he really got loose on some runs because he’s fresh.”
Bozeman added 86 yards on 14 attempts, while Blount had two catches for 35 yards.
For the Cougars, Hayden Moore completed 5-of-6 passes for 48 yards before leaving the game in with an injury early in the second quarter. Wilson was 10-for-10 in passing for 181 yards.
Clark had nine receptions for 157 yards.
The game ahd the makings of a shootout early on when both teams scored off their initial possessions.
Clay-Chalkville took a 7-0 lead on Moore’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Simmons at 10:11 of the first quarter.
Bozeman ripped off a 36 -yard run on Gadsden City’s first play fro scrimmage, and Deramus’ 12-yard pass to Blount and a 12-yard run by Bozeman borough the ball to the Cougar 3, where Ford took it in for the score. Webb’s extra point made it 7-7 at 8:08.
After the teams traded punts, the visitors went up 14-7 on Sidney Battles’ 3-yard touchdown run at 9:17 of the second period.
The Titans answered with a 14-play, 49-yard possession that drained almost seven minutes off the clock. Rudolph’s 5-yard run on a fourth and 1 set up Webb’s 30-yard field goal, cutting the Clay lead to 14-10 with 2:12 left in the half.
“I thought that was one of our biggest drives of the night.” said Scott. “I told out guys that we were toast if we went three-and-out right there. So besides getting points, it was huge just to flip the field and burn the clock.”
That was more than enough time for the Cougars, however. Clay used six plays to move to the GCHS 41, where Wilson hit Clark on a fade pattern just short of the goal line.
Battles’ touchdown in the next play was called back on a holding penalty, but Wilson and Clark then connected for a 1-yard touchdown with 9.1 seconds left for a 21-10 halftime lead.
“A lot of times this year, we had some heads go down when we faced any type of adversity,” said Scott. “I’ve been telling our kids that a championship teams has to know how to handle the highs and lows of a game, and we hadn’t been doing that. I told the kids before the game that [Clay-Chalkville] was go gin to make some plays and that we just had to hang in there and respond.
“It’s been a tough, tough year on all of us, and it says something about the character of these to to bounce back from a tough loss like we had [against Pell City]. We didn’t just lose last week; we didn’t show up. So it says a lot about our guys to come out and do what they did tonight. We’re going to enjoy this one for a little bit and then get ready for Grissom next week.”