By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Survive and advance is exactly what Gadsden City High accomplished on Friday (Nov. 7).
The Titans (9-2) won their first postseason game since 2010 by outlasting Hewitt-Trussville, 54-37, in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs at GCHS.
Gadsden City (9-2) will host Oak Mountain on Friday in the second round. The Eagles (10-1) advanced with a 60-43 win over James Clemens.
The Huskies drew within four points early in the fourth quarter, but the Titans outscored the visitors 19-6 the rest of the way.
Gadsden City’s margin of victory would have been much closer if not for a pair of touchdowns off special teams – the first a 9-yard kickoff return for a score by Jaylon Williams and the second when Denzel Mooney returned a kickoff 70 yards for a TD.
Hewitt-Trussville outgained Gadsden City in total yards, 471 to 325, but 304 of the Titans’ yardage came on the ground.
Gabriel Ford paced the GCHS rushing game with 125 yards on 13 carries. Rodney Bozeman, Jr., added 68 yards on 14 attempts, while quarterback Ahmad DeRamus ran six times for 57 yards.
Zack Oglesby had two big defensive plays down the stretch that help secure the victory.
With Gadsden City nursing an 11-point lead and the Huskies on the move, the senior defensive end sacked quarterback Zac Thomas for a 9-yard loss on a fourth-down and 2 at the HT 20.
Three plays later, DeRamus scored from 16 yards out to make it 47-31 with 4:32 left in the game.
On the ensuing Husky series, Oglesby recovered and returned a fumble 41 yards for a touchdown and a 23-point GCHS advantage with 3:43 remaining, essentially putting the game away.
Thomas threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Meadows on the next possession with just under two minutes left, but the Titans were then able to run out the clock.
“We told our defense all week that it would be a high-scoring game, but if we made three or four stops when we had to, we would win,” said GCHS head coach Matt Scott. “It was kind of a rough start for us defensively, but we felt confident that we were going to score some points on offense and our special teams were huge. I felt that with [Hewitt] running the no-huddle [on offense], we needed to keep our defense off the field as much as possible, and we were able to pound it out on the ground.”
Scott pointed out that several offensive starters saw some time on defense against the Huskies.
“In certain situations, you’ve got to get your best players on the field, whether it is in short-yardage situations near the goal line or on third and long.”
For Hewitt-Trussville, Jarrion Street rushed 25 times for 202 yards. Thomas gained 95 yards on 20 carries. He also completed 10-of-19 passes for 81 yards.
The teams combined for 28 first quarter points. Hewitt-Trussville’s game-opening drive ended with Cyle Moore’s nine-yard touchdown run at 9:57.
But the hosts tied the score at 7-7 just 12 seconds later on Williams’ length-of-the-field kickoff return.
The visitors responded with a 14-play, 79-yard possession that featured 40 rushing yards from Street. The Huskies’ decision to go for it on a fourth and 2 paid off when Thomas scored from 17 yards out. T.J. McGettigan added the extra point for a 14-7 lead at 4:43.
The Titans didn’t trail for long, as Rudolph’s 5-yard touchdown run and Parker Holland’s PAT on the next drive tied it at 14-14.
After Torrez Boyd’s sack of Thomas on a fourth and 1 set up the hosts at the GCHS 44, the Titans used six plays to get to the HT 3, where Ford leapt intro the end zone for the score and a 21-14 lead at 8:17 of the second period.
Both teams missed on field goal attempts before halftime, the Huskies from 22 yards out at 4:24 and Gadsden City from 32 yards away with seven seconds left.
The Titans’ opening series of the second half ended after two plays when Blaine Caldwell recovered a fumble at the GCHS 33, setting up McGettigan’s 31-yard field goal that trimmed the HT deficit to 21-17 at 9:48 of the third quarter.
That score stood for exactly nine seconds before Mooney’s kickoff return for a touchdown made it 28-17.
The GCHS defense stepped up on the next possession when Martavious Parker sacked Thomas for a 12-yard loss on fourth down at the HT 38.
Rudolph capped the resulting drive with a 1-yard touchdown that pushed the Titan lead to 35-17, but on the next play from scrimmage Moore and Meadows teamed up for a 69-yartd touchdown pass on a halfback option play to narrow the gap to 35-24 at 3:31.
Gadsden City was forced to punt on its next series, and on the first play of the fourth quarter Street broke free for a 52-yard touchdown run to close HT within four points.
Once again Gadsden City had an answer for a Husky score, in this case a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rudolph to Bozeman for a 41-31 lead at 8:05.
Oglesby and the GCHS defense took it from there to help Gadsden City make it to the second round for the first time in four years.
“Every time we’ve been in these types of situations this year, our kids have responded,” said Scott. “I’m really proud for our kids; they put in a lot of time and effort in preparing for this game.”