By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Photo caption: Gadsden City cornerback Josh Richard (right) covers Spain Park’s Kenyon Hines during the Titans’ 31-19 loss in high school football last Friday (Aug. 25) in Hoover. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
The Bart Sessions era at Gadsden City High began on a sour note last Friday (Aug. 25) in Hoover.
The Class 7A Titans were poised to upset seventh-ranked Spain Park after a 5-yard Ryan Sparks-to-Jamontez Woods touchdown pass put GCHS ahead 19-14 at the 9:07 mark of the third quarter.
Matters looked even brighter for the visitors three plays later when Jaguar starting quarterback Braxton Barker left the game with an injury.
Things quickly went south for the visitors, however, as the hosts scored 17 unanswered points en route to a 31-19 victory.
SPHS backup signal caller Mason Pronk made the most of his opportunity after Barker remained on the sidelines for two offensive series. Pronk completed the drive that Barker began with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kenyon Hines for a 21-19 Jaguar lead at 5:46.
Gadsden City then fumbled the ball away three plays into the ensuing possession deep in Titan territory, and GCHS paid for the miscue when Cole Starr nailed a 21-yatd field goal to increase the Jaguar advantage to five points with 2:25 remaining in the third period.
Gadsden City’s final three series ended in a punt and two failed fourth down conversion attempts. Barker was back under center for the fourth quarter, and he led the Spain Park on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was polished off by D’Arie Johnson’s 11-yard touchdown run at 10: 46.
Sessions pointed to a multitude of reasons why the Titans began the season at 0-1.
“We didn’t protect very well, we threw into coverage, we didn’t block the run game, we didn’t execute the kicking game. I don’t know who was running the ball but I could have run for 300 yards against us. When you’ve got free shots on the guy in in the backfield, you’ve got to make the tackle. Apparently, we’re doing something wrong in that area. We’ll reassess what we’re doing and maybe we’ll tackle somebody next week.”
Johnson was a thorn in the Titans’ side all night, rushing for 112 yards 19 carries. Barker completed 14 of 24 passes for 165 yards. Hines caught five passes for 52 yards, while Joseph Dennis had five receptions for 49 yards.
Sessions rolled the dice on the game’s opening kickoff with an onside kick, and the call paid off when kicker Jonathan Kilgo recovered the ball at the Spain Park 47-yard line. The next three plays netted all of five yards, but on fourth down Sparks and Jamontavious Woods hooked up on a 42-yard touchdown pass that gave the visitors an early 7-0 lead.
“We saw something on the film and a couple of our assistant coaches saw it was there and we were able to take advantage of it,” said Sessions. “We executed it well, and unfortunately, it might have been the best thing we executed all night.”
The Jaguars quickly responded, however, as a 27-yard pass from Barker to Hines on third down deep in Spain Park territory led to Barker’s 19-yard touchdown pass to M.J. Rogers at 9:10 of the first quarter.
Gadsden City looked to reclaimed the lead on the following series when a 60-yard pass from Sparks to Jaylen Cole helped the Titans make it to the Jaguar 2. But the drive fizzled out at the above yard line when GCHS came up short on fourth down.
Spain Park proceeded to put together a mammoth 17-play, 98-yard series that was capped by Johnson’s 17-yard touchdown run. Starr’s PAT made it 14-7 in favor of the hosts at 10:08 of the second period.
“It should have been 21-7 us [at halftime],” said Sessions. “You have the ball at the 2-yard line, we should be able to knock it in. If not, we should be able to keep them for going 98 yards [to score], and we can’t [do that] right now.”
Following an exchange of punts, the Titans narrowed the gap to 14-13 courtesy of Sparks’ 40-yard touchdown pass to Jaelyn Fleming with 3:36 left before halftime.
Gadsden City hit the ground running early in the second half with Sparks’ scoring pass to Woods, but that turned out to be the high-water mark for the Titans the rest of the way.
Sparks completed 19 of 35 passes for 271 yards, while Cole had five receptions for 115 yards.
“We did a poor job tonight of coming together as a team,” said Sessions. “There has to be a shift in the way we think as a team if we’re going have any chance to be successful.”
Gadsden City travels to Oxford this Friday (Sept. 1).