By Chris Benefield
Failed opportunities and two major turning points doomed Gadsden City High last Friday (Aug. 19), as the Titans dropped a 21-17 decision to the Spain Park Jaguars before 5,500 at Titan Stadium.
The defending state runner-up Jaguars hit Gadsden City with a thunder-and lightning running attack, as Larry Wooden pounded the middle for 70 yards and D’arie Johnson attacked the flank for 84. Both players had 13 carries.
The Titans countered with a two-pronged attack of their own, however, as Jaelyn Fleming and Damon Williams combined for 100 rushing yards to keep the Titans within striking distance before critical turnovers and controversial setbacks left them just short at the end.
Spain Park took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 12 plays for the initial score of the night, with Wooden going over from the 4-yard line. Harlan Wallace kicked it to 7-0 with l 7:12 left in the opening stanza.
Gadsden City answered with a 58-yard kickoff return by Jamontez Woods, followed by a 6-play drive to paydirt. Williams scored from the six and Jonathan Kilgo added the PAT, knotting the game at 7-7 with 5:05 left.
After a Jaguar punt, the game’s first turning point occurred. Backed up to their own 14, the Titans unleashed Williams off right tackle for an 86-yard touchdown run. A chop block flag negated the run, however, and on the next play GCHS fumbled into the air. Spain Park’s Rayfe Richey snatched the ball and ran it in the end zone from the 15. The Jags went up 14-7, as Wallace’s kick was true with 1:42 to go in the quarter.
After an exchange of punts and fumbles, Spain Park had great field position at the Titan 46. The visitors covered that distance in eight plays, with Johnson denting the end zone from the 5. Wallace’s extra point made it 21-7 with 3:33 to go until halftime.
But Gadsden City struck right back with an electrifying 40-yard kickoff return from Fleming and a quick six-play scoring drive. When Sparks found Jaylen Cole in the end zone at 1:17 and Kilgo added the PAT, the Titans went to the locker room down by only seven points.
The home team partially blocked a Jaguar punt on the next to last play of a scoreless third quarter and took over on the Spain Park 27. GCHS moved quickly into field goal range, and Kilgo drilled it through from 30 yards out to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 8:02 to go in the game.
After the Jaguars went three-and-out, the game’s second and final turning point reared its ugly head. The ensuing punt floated into Williams’ hands, and the Titan senior didn’t stop until he had registered what appeared to be a game-winning 66-yard TD. A controversial running-into-the kicker flag brought an end the celebration, however, and the re-kick carried to the Gadsden 41, where it was downed.
Gadsden City still managed to mount one last attack, driving all the way to the Spain Park 9-yard line with the aid of an also controversial pass interference call. However, on fourth and goal, Sparks was heavily pressured, and his desperation pass into the end zone was intercepted for a touchback.
After a celebration penalty backed the Jaguars up to their 10, Wooden bulled his way off-tackle for 10 yards and Johnson streaked for 42 as Spain Park ran out the clock to claim the narrow victory.
With 84 yards n 13 carries, Fleming was the statistical leader for the Titans (0-1), who host Oxford on Friday (Aug. 26) at 7 p.m.