By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Don’t count the local squad out of the postseason picture just yet.
Sparked by big plays on offense, defense and special teams, Gadsden City posted a 40-14 victory over Class 7A, Region 4 rival Buckhorn last Friday (Sept. 30) at the school’s homecoming.
The Titans improved to 2-5 overall and 2-2 in region play, while the Bucks dropped to 3-3, 2-2.
“It’s been a disappointing year so far, and I really appreciate our fans coming out tonight on homecoming,” said GCHS head coach Matt Scott. “This one feels great, because we’ve been in so many tight games this year and came up on the short end of the stick.”
The hosts jumped out to 13-0 lead just four minutes into the game before heading into halftime with a 20-7 advantage.
A pair of long touchdowns passes from quarterback Ryan Sparks put Gadsden City up by 20 points late in the third quarter, and Damian Thompson’s 1-yard touchdown run with eight minutes remaining effectively put the game out of reach.
“We had some issues offensively in the first half, but we had a couple of big plays that really helped us,” said Scott.
Besides forcing a pair of turnover that led to two touchdowns, the Titan defense put constant pressure on quarterback William Holladay, who was sacked five times while managing only 36 passing yards through the first three quarters. Of the Bucks’ seven second-half possessions, four ended in punts and two resulted in failed fourth down conversion attempts.
“We’ve had quite a few key injuries so we’ve had to shuffle around a few guys, but the defense came up with some big stops tonight,” said Scott.
Sparks was 6 of 13 in passing for 175 yards and two scores. Jaylen Cole caught three passes for 32 yards, while Jamontavious Woods had 91 yards on two receptions.
Jaelyn Fleming rushed for 56 yards on five carries and Damon Williams ran 11 times for 45 yards.
The Titans finished with 285 total yards.
The hosts took the lead for good on the opening kickoff, which DeWayne Parker returned 80 yards for a touchdown just 15 seconds into the game.
“I know that it doesn’t look like it sometimes, but we spend a lot of time at practice on special teams,” said Scott. “We felt like we had a really good chance to return a kick (for a touchdown) tonight, and that’s why we wanted to get the ball first.”
Six plays into Buckhorn’s initial possession, GCHS recovered a fumble at the Titan 34, and on the second play from scrimmage Fleming took it to the house from 60 yards out. Johnathan Kilgo nailed the extra point, giving Gadsden City a 13-0 lead at 8:11 of the first quarter.
The GCHS defense forced two straight three-and-outs, then came up big when Jer’Michael Isom scooped up a loose ball and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. Kilgo’s PAT made it 20-0 at the 1:02 mark.
The Titans’ first turnover of the game proved costly, however, as William Ignot’s interception at 5:15 of the second quarter led to Matthew Evans’ 18-yard touchdown run with 2:50 left before the half. Grant Mullins pushed through the extra point to pull the New Market squad within 13 points.
Gadsden City’s attempt to extend its lead before intermission failed when Nick Rivers came up with an interception with just under a minute to go.
While the Titan defense did its part by forcing three straight punts, the GCHS passing game began to click in the second half, staring with Sparks’ 50-yard strike to Fleming that widened the gap to 26-7 at 5:10 of the third frame.
On the next series, Sparks and Woods hooked up for a 74-yard scoring pass that pushed the lead to 33-7 with 1:55 to go in the quarter.
“We struggled to run the ball when we’ve had to, but getting a couple of uncontested touchdown passes shows how much people respect our running game and the running backs we have.”
The visitors soon pulled within 33-14 early in the fourth on Holladay’s 40-yard TD pass to Evans, but Thompson’s scoring run on the ensuing GCHS possession erased any possibility of a comeback.
Dallin Woodley paced the Buckhorn ground game with 80 yards on 19 carries, while Evans added 75 yards on 11 attempts. Holladay completed 8 of 22 passes for 82 yards.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say that our best ball is ahead of us,” said Scott. “If we can clean up the turnovers, we can play with anybody.”
Gadsden City continues region play this week with a trip to Madison against No. 5 Bob Jones.