Photo: Etowah’s Ny Ny Davis (left) looks to get past Gadsden City’s Quinton Densmore during the Blue Devils’ 31-23 victory in high school football on Aug. 23 at GCHS. (Gary Wells)
By Chris McCarthy/Publisher/Editor
John Holladay’s inaugural halftime speech at Etowah seemed to have struck the right chord on Aug. 23 in Gadsden.
After watching his team squander a 14-0 lead in the first half, Etowah’s first-year head coach saw his Class 5A No. 9 Blue Devils outscore Gadsden City 17 to 7 over the final 24 minutes en route to a 31-23 victory in the season opener for both teams.
A 38-yard touchdown run by Trent Davis early in the third quarter gave the visitors the lead for good at 22-16. Davis finished with 132 rushing yards on 30 carries, with 112 of those yards coming after halftime.
On the first play of the fourth period, the Blue Devils downed a 43-yard punt at the Titan 1-yard line. On the drive’s first play, Etowah tackled the GCHS runner in the end zone. The resulting safety extended the lead to 12 points.
Following a GCHS three-and-out, the Blue Devils took over with 6:32 remaining. Trent Davis and Ny Ny Davis each ran for a first down to keep the clock moving.
On a first and 15 from the Etowah 39, Ny Ny Davis outraced the GCHS defenders to the end zone. Eric Edge pushed through the extra point, providing the Blue Devils with a 31-16 advantage at the 4:15 mark of the fourth.
The visitors were not out of the woods, however. On the next play from scrimmage, GCHS quarterback Jayden Lawson and receiver Trey Blount connected for a 61-yard touchdown. Daniel Sparks nailed the PAT, keeping it a one-possession game with just under four minutes to go.
Etowah failed to get a first down on the ensuing series and GCHS got the ball back with 3:50 of clock time to work with. But the Titans’ final drive ended after two plays when Ollie Finch intercepted the ball at midfield, effectively sealing Holladay’s first win at Etowah.
“Our kids showed a lot of resiliency tonight,” said Holladay. “Besides one play, our defense pitched a shutout in the second half, so I’m really proud of our kids. There was a lot we did wrong tonight that we’ll have to correct, but what we did do right was play hard.”
Etowah rolled up 456 total yards while limiting Gadsden City to 203. With the exception of Lawson’s touchdown pass, the Titans managed just eight yards and 12 plays from scrimmage in the second half. Out of six offensive possessions in the third and fourth quarters, Gadsden City punted three times.
Etowah quarterback Kevin Troup had a solid game in completing 13 of 23 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Finch had four receptions for 103 yards. Ny Ny Davis gained 77 yards on six carries.
For the Titans, Lawson was 4 for 8 in passing fir 120 yards. Blount caught five passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns. Before he left the game with a leg injury midway through the first quarter, DeMarcus Macon completed 4 of 5 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
GCHS took an early 3-0 lead off the game’s opening series on Daniel Sparks’ 34-yard field goal at 7:08 of the first quarter.
The visitors quickly answered with a 3-yard TD run by William Cox, a score that was set up by Troup’s 77-yard pass to Trent Davis.
Following a GCHS three-and-out, the Blue Devils went up 14 points by way of Troup’s 24-yard scoring pass to Finch with 1:37 left in the opening frame.
The second quarter was all Gadsden City, however.
The Titans recovered the ball after a bad snap on an Etowah punt, leading three plays later to Mason’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Blount with 9:38 left before the half.
The next Etowah possession lasted eight plays until Zion Kirby picked off a pass at the GCHS 10. The Titans failed turn the interception into points, but with 48 seconds remaining in the first half, Lawson and Blount teamed up for a touchdown from 50 yards out. Sparks’ extra point gave the hosts their first lead of the game at 16-14.
“I think we let [Etowah] control the game by us making a lot of mistakes,” said GCHS head coach Ali Smith. “They did an excellent job, but we have to get out of our own way, and that’s at all levels [at] Gadsden City. We have to change our mindsets.”
Both teams travel this week for non-region action. Etowah visits Moody while Gadsden City heads to Oxford.