By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
With the game on the line last Friday (Oct. 5), Etowah High head football coach Drew Noles knew he could trust his defense to come through with a stop.
The Class 5A, No. 2 Blue Devils (7-0) led Pell City 8-6 with 3:51 remaining, and the Panthers (2-4) had just picked up a first down after a 16-yard pass from Mitchell Gossett to Jarrod Posey. On the next four plays, however, the Blue Devils forced two incompletions and two plays for a loss of yards to seal the game.
Etowah struggled most of the night offensively, and Pell City made just enough plays to hang around in the second half. Both offenses were held scoreless in the first quarter, but the Blue Devils methodically moved the ball down the field on their third drive of the night.
On the first play of the second quarter, Etowah quarterback Brady Troup dropped back and threw a jump ball to receiver Derickey Wright on a post route. Wright snagged the ball in the back of the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good, and the Blue Devils led 6-0 with 11:51 left in the first half.
After forcing a Pell City three-and-out, Etowah marched down the field again after three big plays through the air. Troup connected with Emil Smith, NyNy Davis and DeAundrea Williams for gains of 15 yards or more, but the drive stalled as the hosts failed to convert on fourth down inside the red zone.
The Panthers threatened to score before the end of the first half, but the Blue Devils forced a fifth Pell City punt and carried a 6-0 lead into the locker room.
Pell City moved the ball into Etowah territory on its first drive of the second half after a 29-yard pass from Gossett to Posey. However, Etowah forced a turnover on downs after Trey Cole sacked Gossett on fourth-and-10 from the 31-yard line.
After the Panthers forced an Etowah punt, the visitors took over on their own 8-yard line. On second and 10, Etowah defensive end Jamin Graham burst through the line and sacked Gossett for a safety to give the Blue Devils an 8-0 lead with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
Etowah nearly put the game away on its ensuing drive, and they made it back inside the Pell City 20. A holding penalty negated an eight-yard pass from Troup to Wright, and the Blue Devils again turned the ball over on downs.
On the final play of the third quarter, Gossett found Posey for another 29-yard gain to move the ball near midfield. The Panthers kept attacking through the air, and on third down and 10, Gossett connected on a strike to Posey on a vertical route for a 40-yard touchdown. Pell City went for two to even the score, but Gossett’s pass sailed over the back of the end zone. Etowah held an 8-6 lead with 9:52 remaining in the game.
Penalties hindered the Blue Devils on their next drive, and they were forced to punt the ball back to Pell City. After two positive plays for the Panther offense, Gossett threw a lateral pass behind running back Darius Garrett, and the Blue Devils recovered it on the 46-yard line.
Pell City had one last chance later in the quarter, but the Blue Devil defense forced another stop. Derickey Wright came in at quarterback and iced the game by picking up 10 yards and a first down on three carries.
Noles said he was proud of the way his defense made plays and felt like his team needed the challenge from the Panthers.
“We need it,” Noles said of the stiff competition. “We had three backup linemen in the game in the second half, so that makes a big difference. We moved the ball well, but we were inside the [Pell City] 30 three times and didn’t score a point. It was on us. [Pell City] had a good plan. We had some young guys in the game.”
Etowah outgained Pell City 291 to 158 and held the Panthers to zero total rushing yards. But the visitors were able to keep drives alive thanks to several Blue Devil penalties. Etowah was penalized 14 times for 115 yards on the night, including six personal fouls.
“We can’t keep making the mistakes that we keep making,” Noles said. “If we do, we’ll win one or two more [games] and be done with it. We have a chance to do some good things, but not by showing lack of character.
“Some of (the penalties) is retaliation. We’ve run the stew out of them. That’s one thing we’ve done. You have got to be somebody. We had guys that make plays that had opportunities to make plays tonight, but didn’t. We’ve got to keep our mouths shut. That’s one thing. It’s frustrating, that’s for sure. I’d like to see us play with great efforts and with great passion with our mouths shut.”
Troup led the way offensively for the Blue Devils. He completed 14-of-23 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Trent Davis carried the ball 15 times for 59 yards, while Wright carried it eight times for 41 yards while catching one pass for a touchdown. Emil Smith hauled in four passes for 42 yards.
Gossett connected on 8-of-19 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown for Pell City. Posey caught five passes for 144 yards and a score, while Garrett carried the ball 11 times for 43 yards.
Etowah heads back into Region 6 play on Friday (Oct. 12) as the Blue Devils host a winless Douglas team. Pell City hosts Clay-Chalkville in a Class 6A, Region 6 matchup.