By Chris McCarthy/Editor
In a game that saw two of the top teams in Class 7A trade scores on what seemed like every offensive possession, it was the visiting Tigers that fired the last salvo in a 45-38 victory over Gadsden City on Friday (Aug. 21).
The No. 8 Titans (0-1) had an opportunity in the closing minutes to tie or take the lead, but the comeback fizzled out when quarterback Ahmad DeRamus was sacked at the Auburn 13 on fourth down with 31 seconds left. Auburn then took consecutive knees to run out the clock.
The winning drive came off Gadsden City’s first and only turnover of the night, an interception by Morgan Brown that gave the visitors the ball at the GCHS 36 with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
A 29-yard scamper on second down by Cobi Smith brought the ball to the Titan 1-yard line, and two plays later quarterback Bradley Northcutt took it in the end zone. Sage Ledbetter tacked on the extra point for a 45-38 advantage with 3:02 left in the game.
Starting the ensuing drive at its own 20, Gadsden City gradually worked its way to the Tiger 22 due in large part to the arm and legs of DeRamus, who completed passes of 13 and 8 yards while reeling off runs of 11, 12 and 19 yards. Senior halfback Rodney Bozeman also had a big run of 12 yards during the series.
An 11-yard run by DeRamus brought the ball to the AHS 11, but that was as far as the hosts would get. A loss of a yard on a run play, an incomplete pass, another yard loss and a 17-yard loss on a quarterback sack sealed the Titans’ fate.
GCHS head coach Matt Scott pointed to the humid conditions as a contributing factor in his team’s loss.
“Typically, we don’t have a problems with cramping and those types of things, and I think that played a huge role in the second half when we didn’t do a good job tonight of dealing with the heat. I think we got tired up front late in the game. When Ahmad was sacked on that last play, they only rushed four people but they got to us. We have to look at what we’re doing preparation-wise. But the kids played hard, and I thought that they handled the highs and lows of the game pretty well.”
The teams combined for 915 total yards, with Auburn racking up 510 and Gadsden City 405.
Damon Williams led the GCHS rushing game with 144 yards along with two touchdowns on 16 attempts. Bozeman gained 90 yards on 10 carries, while DeRamus added 65 yards and a pair of scores on nine totes.
DeRamus was 10-for-14 in passing for 116 yards. Denzel Mooney, Darnell Mooney and Jaylon Williams each had two receptions.
After drawing within 24-17 at halftime on Ledbetter’s 42-yard field goal at the buzzer, Auburn opened the second half with a 90-yard, 12-play series that featured a 28-yard run from Cedric Clark and culminated in Smith’s 6-yatd touchdown run at 6:54 of the third quarter. Ledbetter’s PAT gave the Tigers a slim 24-23 lead.
The Titans were forced to punt on their next possession, but the ball deflected off an Auburn player and GCHS recovered at the Tiger 18.
On the next play Damon Williams took it to the house around right end, and with Parker Holland extra point the hosts regained the advantage at 30-24 at 2:27.
But the Tigers quickly struck back. A 39-yard scramble by Northcutt put the visitors deep inside GCHS territory, and Northcutt’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Cordell Plott put Auburn ahead 31-20 with 1:09 left in the period.
Gadsden City soon responded in kind. DeRamus went 3-for-3 in passing for 61 yards to help push the Titans to the AHS 1, from which the senior quarterback hit paydirt for a 38-31 lead at the 10:32 mark of the fourth quarter.
Once more, the Tigers answered with a bang. Northcutt led his team 77 yards in 11 plays to the GCHS 3, where Smith dove in for the score. Ledbetter knocked through the PAT for a 38-38 tie with 6:04 left.
The following Titan possession lasted for all of three plays and ended with Morgan’s game-changing pick.
For the Tigers, Northcutt rushed 27 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns, while Clark gained 165 yards and two TDs on 25 attempts. Smith added 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns on eight carries, all in the second half.
The Tigers got the ball rolling on the first series of the game. Starting at the GCHS 46 after recovering an onside kick, Auburn cashed in on that big special teams play via Clark’s 1-yard touchdown at 7:20 of the first quarter.
That advantage lasted for all of six seconds, as Denzel Mooney scooped up another onside kick at midfield and raced to the end zone for a 7-7 tie.
The visitors regained the lead six plays from scrimmage later on Clark’s 3-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead at 5:31.
Martavius Parker’s interception early in the second quarter did not lead to points, but the hosts cut their deficit 14-10 when Parker Holland connected on a 34-yard field goal at 6:28.
The Titans then scored a pair of touchdowns in the span of 1:41, first on DeRamus’ 5-yard keeper and then on Damon Williams’ 58-yard touchdown run with 2:31 left before intermission.
Ledbetter’s field goal in the closing seconds trimmed the GCHS advantage to 23-17.
“We played them down there last year when it was 100 degrees and we didn’t have any [heat] issues, so we have to evaluate what we’re doing from a nutrition standpoint and hydration standpoint,” said Scott. “I’m proud of our kids effort-wise but obviously we have a long way to go. But our kids will learn from this and be ready for Oxford next week.”