By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
West End submitted one of its best offensive performances of the season in a 46-28 victory over Gaston in Class 2A, Region 6 action on Friday (Oct. 18) at Captain Bill Boyd Field in Gadsden.
The Patriots (2-6, 1-4) scored on five of their first six half possessions and led 46-14 in the third quarter before the Bulldogs (0-8, 0-5) added two scores in the second half.
“We had some big plays early, but I think we let off a little bit and lost a little focus,” said West End coach Kyle Davis. “There were some things (Gaston did) that we didn’t see on film that got us a little bit. We came out a little shaky defensively, but we settled in.
“The biggest thing is we executed early on offense, and that made a big difference for us. We told them we wanted to get out and go.”
Isaiah Roberson fumbled near the Gaston end zone on West End’s opening drive, but the ball was recovered by teammate Kyle Edwards for a touchdown. Quarterback Eli Pearce (pictured above) connected with Adam Bates for the 2-point try to give the Patriots an 8-0 lead with 8:50 left in the first quarter.
Gaston fumbled away the ball its first play from scrimmage, which set up the Patriots on the Bulldog 30-yard line. Roberson scored from six yards out on the seventh play of the drive to extend the lead to 14-0 with 6:47 on the clock. The Bulldogs threatened to score on their next drive after Josh Campbell found Ethan Stone for a fourth down and 12 conversion to the Patriot 4-yard line, but a penalty eventually led to a stalled drive.
On the first play of West End’s ensuing possession, Pearce took off around the left end, cut back across the field and evaded four defenders for an 80-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 21-0 with 1:21 remaining in the opening quarter.
Despite the three-score deficit, the Bulldog offense stuck with the ground game, and it paid off to start the second quarter when a 28-yard run from Gage McArthur set up a 10-yard touchdown run from running back Wes Simmons. The Patriots blocked the extra point, but the lead was cut to 21-6 with 10:23 remaining in the second quarter.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Gaston’s Jeremiah Dupree intercepted Pearce and returned the ball to the West End 20. Simmons scored his second touchdown of the night three plays later, and Campbell connected with McArthur for the 2-point conversion to trim the deficit to 21-14 with 9:16 left in the half.
From there, West End scored on back-to-back drives and four of its next five drives to put the game away.
Pearce found Jeremiah Roberson for a 15-yard score and hit Jackson Tidmore for a 29-yard touchdown after a Gaston three-and-out to extend the lead to 33-14 at halftime.
Gaston was set to receive the opening kickoff of the second half, but the Patriots surprised the hosts with an onside kick. West End recovered the ball at the Gaston 45-yard line, and Pearce hit Roberson with a 35-yard touchdown strike to push the lead to 40-14.
The Bulldogs marched down the field on a 17-play drive but failed to score after Campbell was sacked for a 13-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal from the Patriot 6. Pearce called his own number on the second play of the drive, scoring from 78 yards out to extend the lead to 46-14 with 2:24 left in the third quarter.
Gaston put together a quick 6-play scoring drive that ended with Simmons’ third touchdown of the night on a 35-yard run. Malikah Warren ran in the 2-point conversion to trim the margin to 46-22 with nine seconds remaining in the third.
West End didn’t score again kept the ball long enough to prevent the Bulldogs from mounting a comeback.
Gaston added a late touchdown on a 45-yard scoop and score by James Blanton, but the 2-point try was no good, and the Patriots did not have much of a sweat in the final minutes of the game.
Davis said the onside kick to start the second half helped create separation and gave the Patriots some cushion.
“We actually talked about (kicking it onside) after we scored the last touchdown of the first half, but we decided to wait,” he said. “It’s something we work on a lot. We didn’t want to give them that first possession (of the second half) without us getting a score.”
Pearce rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries, and he also completed 10-of-19 passes for 164 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Roberson caught six passes for 113 yards and two scores as the Patriots gained 415 yards of offense to Gaston’s 253 yards. Simmons led the way for the Bulldogs, and he carried the ball 25 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’ve done some stuff we thought would be successful tonight,” said Gaston coach Swane Morris. “We’ve come along a little more each week, and I’m proud of how it’s coming along. It took us a while to grow up. It’s still some good memories for these kids, and I like the way we fought.”
West End finishes the season with homes games against Woodland and Glencoe.
“We told our guys that we can finish this thing on a three-game winning streak and have a lot of momentum going into the offseason,” Davis said. “We can finish 4-6 off of a 1-9 year with eight guys coming back on both sides of the ball.”
Gaston winds up region play this Friday (Oct. 25) with a visit to second-ranked Ohatchee.