Photo: Gadsden City’s Jakari Embry (11) runs for a first down as Grissom’s Caleb Peake (10) pursues during the Titans’ 17-14 victory last Friday (Oct. 25) at GCHS. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Gadsden City’s first win of the 2019 football season came with a couple of anxious moments last Friday (Oct. 25) at a soggy Titan Stadium.
GCHS (1-8, 1-6) built a 17-0 lead then withstood a late comeback attempt by Grissom to notch a 17-14 Class 7A, Region 4 victory on the Titans’ homecoming.
Gadsden City’s last win came exactly a year to the day against the same Tigers, a 35-7 victory at Grissom in Week 9 of the 2018 season.
The Titans looked to be in good shape after a field goal from Daniel Sparks, a touchdown pass by DeMarcus Maxon and a TD run from C.J. Miller provided the hosts with a 17-0 advantage with a minute remaining in the third quarter.
In addition, a 12-play drive by Grissom that consumed almost half of the third period ended on a failed fourth down conversion attempt at the GCHS 43-yard line.
Grissom, however, was not yet ready to head back to south Huntsville.
The Titans fumbled on the next play from scrimmage, and the Tigers’ Kahlil Saunders recovered the ball at the Gadsden City 47.
A 36-yard dump pass from Jakob Foss to Mark Howard moved the ball inside the GCHS 20, and Foss’ 13-yard touchdown pass to John Stogner on third down pulled the visitors within 10 points with 34 seconds left in the third.
The Titans were then forced to punt after gaining one yard in three plays. Grissom’s following 10-play, 56-yard drive ended with another Foss-to-Stogner scoring pass, this time from 16 yards out.
Rikardo Zimmerman’ PAT cut the GCHS lead to 17-14 at the 7:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
Gadsden City’s situation became critical when Zimmerman recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Titan 48. The Tigers eventually arrived at the GCHS 22. Instead of attempting a game-tying 37-yard field goal, however, Grissom elected to go for it on fourth down and 4, and Foss’ pass attempt fell incomplete.
Gadsden City shaved off about three and a half minutes of clock time during the next offensive series until having to punt the ball away with 1:44 remaining. But Sparks’ punt rolled all the way to the Tiger 2. With no time outs left, Grissom was forced to pass, and after four straight incompletions, the GCHS offense ran out the game clock.
“I told our kids to play to win and not play to lose,” said Gadsden City head coach Ail Smith about his team weathering the Grissom rally attempt. “We’ve practiced situations like this all spring, summer and fall, so I told the kids to relax and not tighten up. Our kids kept fighting and didn’t give up, and we appreciate what they did tonight.
“[The losing streak] was weighing on our kids, so I feel better for them. I’m also proud of our coaching staff for working their tails off.”
Grissom out-gained Gadsden City by a 300 to 138 margin, but the Titans held the visitors to 52 yards rushing.
Macon was 6 for 12 in passing for 65 yards. JaQuan Woods caught two passes for 49 yards.
Miller paced GCHS on the ground with 47 yards on 11 carries.
Foss completed 17 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, both to Stogner, who had eight receptions for 248 yards. Caleb Hunt paced rushed for 47 yards on 12 carries.
Gadsden City took the lead for good on their first series of the game, an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by Sparks’ 30-yard field goal at 2:44 of the first quarter.
Martavious Baker recovered a Grissom fumble midway through the second quarter, but the Titans eventually punted. Gadsden City soon regained possession when senior linebacker Alan Merrick fell on a loose ball at the Tiger 25. With just under a minute left in the first half, Macon connected with sophomore tight end Kohlton Sandridge for a seven-yard touchdown. Sparks pushed through the extra point for a 10-0 GCHS lead at intermission.
Smith called for an onside kick on the second half kickoff, and the Titans rewarded that risky move by recovering the ball at midfield.
Respective 17-yard runs by Jakari Embry and Arlando Jennings helped move the hosts to the Grissom 1, where Miller took it in for the score. Sparks’ point-after made it 17-0 in favor of Gadsden City.
The Titans eventually turned back Grissom’s late comeback attempt to provide Smith with his first victory as GCHS head coach.
“We appreciate all the fans and the student body that came out and supported us tonight,” said Smith. “I’ve been saying since Day 1 that it’s not about me; it’s about these kids. I just want our kids to know the goodness of being a winner.”
The Titans close out their season against Clay-Chalkville at home this Friday (Nov. 1).