By Roy Mitchell/for Cherokee County Herald
Sand Rock overcame a two-touchdown deficit to defeat Gaston, 21-12, last Friday (Aug. 31) at Sand Rock.
Tanner Clanton’s barreling runs, Samuel Alexander’s big plays and second-half offensive line play led the Wildcats (1-0) to the comeback win.
Sloppy football plagued both teams in the first half. Gaston (0-1) had an incomplete pass, two penalties and two fumbles in its first four plays. Alexander fell on the second fumble to give Sand Rock an early opportunity. The Wildcats couldn’t capitalize as a motion penalty and a failed fourth-and-2 ended the possession.
The visiting Bulldogs then drove for the first score of the night. The 13-play drive saw a double dose of power running in backs Kameron Hawkins and Noah Tolbert. Hawkins used agile twists, stutter steps and cut-backs to stymie Wildcat pursuers. The larger Tolbert simply plowed in between the tackles, inevitably falling forward for positive gains.
With 1:19 left in the first quarter, Tolbert toppled over right tackle for a 5-yard touchdown run. Alexander intercepted the 2-point conversion attempt and the Bulldog lead was 6-0.
Sand Rock took over and gained nearly 30 yards on the first three plays. Two bad snaps slowed the drive, however, and the Wildcats were forced to punt. When they did, Gaston’s Malik Redmond broke through the line and blocked it. Scooping up the football, he ran 35 yards for the score. Foster intercepted the 2-point try, but Gaston held a 12-0 lead with 10:26 left in the second quarter.
After a Sand Rock punt, Gaston marched down the field. Powered mostly by Hawkins rushes, the Bulldogs threatened to extend the lead on their next drive. With 2:14 left in the second quarter, Wildcat defenders David Burt and Ian Clanton combined to tackle Tolbert for no gain on fourth-and-goal at the Sand Rock 3. The stop held the Gaston to a 12-0 halftime lead and would prove to be a pivotal point for the Sand Rock defense, as it sparked a remarkable turnaround. Gaston would never get close to the Sand Rock goal line again, and the Wildcats scored on three of their next four possessions.
It took only three plays into the second half for Sand Rock to get on the board. Playing in the left slot, Alexander took the handoff on a sweep right. He quickly got around the end and crossed the goal line 60 yards later. Devin Daniel’s extra point cut the Gaston lead to 12-7 with 10:25 left in the third quarter.
Sand Rock’s defensive front frequently penetrated the Gaston backfield in the second half. A Clanton sack quelled one Gaston drive. After a Sand Rock punt, Brady Jackson recovered a Hawkins fumble in the Bulldog backfield to put Sand Rock back in business.
Ten plays and 62 yards later, Sand Rock was in the end zone for the go-ahead score. Clanton plowed into the Gaston line for gains of 5, 7 and 2 yards when two incomplete passes left Sand Rock with a critical fourth-and-2 at the Gaston 33-yard line. Alexander’s 12-yard reception then moved the sticks, keeping the go-ahead drive alive.
The Wildcats then force-fed Clanton down Gaston’s throat for four straight drive-ending carries. The last, a 1-yard touchdown plunge, put the Wildcats up for good 13-12 with 10:40 left in the fourth quarter. Dylan Gowens’ third-down tackle in the Bulldog backfield forced a Gaston punt on its next possession.
Sand Rock sealed the victory with a 6-play, 69-yard scoring drive. Clanton’s 1-yard plunge and subsequent 2-point conversion pushed the Sand Rock lead to 21-12.
Gaston failed to advance in their next possession, and the Wildcats ran out the clock to preserve the victory.
Gaston opens their region play at Ranburne on Sept. 7.