Photo: Carlos Flores and the Gadsden City High football team won their first game of the season on Oct. 12. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger file photo)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
After six straight losses to start the season, Gadsden City entered its Class 7A, Region 4 contest against Florence with its backs against the wall.
To make the playoffs, the Titans (1-6, 1-4) had to win their last three region games and hope for a few breaks along the way. Gadsden City fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter against the Falcons (3-5, 2-3), and fans began to make their way to the exits.
But the Titans weren’t discouraged by the above deficit, rallying for a 31-24 victory that could potentially turn their season around with three weeks remaining.
Gadsden City head coach Bart Sessions believed the come-from-behind win is a program-changing victory.
“We’re 1-0 tonight,” Sessions said. “That’s all that matters. We’re 1-0 tonight. Our coaching staff has been in a lot of big football games, and we’ve had a lot of big wins throughout our careers. This is as big of win as I’ve ever coached in in my career.
“To see this group of kids and this group of coaches week after week after week get ridiculed, and have people giving up on them, and have people quitting on them… to know that they fought every single day and do what they did tonight down 21. People were leaving the game early. They see that. What a great job by this group of kids.”
Florence scored on the third play from scrimmage on a 56-yard touchdown by DeMarcus Beckwith, and the visitors took a 7-0 lead only 1:07 into the game. On the next play of the ensuing Florence drive, Falcon quarterback Gardner Flippo found Cadarrius Thompson for a 57-yard score to extend the lead to 14-0 with 8:56 remaining in the opening frame.
Gadsden City moved the ball into Florence territory and opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 on the Falcons’ 40-yard line. The Florence defense made a stop, and the Falcons added another score to increase the lead to 21-0 on a 1-yard touchdown run from Jaikalar Coleman with 2:34 left in the first quarter. Coleman set up the score with a 35-yard run.
The Titans quickly answered on their ensuing drive, as quarterback DeMarcus Macon found J.C. Woods for a 35-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 21-7 at the end of the first quarter.
On Florence’s next drive, Flippo was intercepted by Titan defensive back Josh Richard. The turnover set up the Titans with excellent field position, and Jamontez Woods took over of the Gadsden City offense. The senior halfback caught a pass from Macon and ran it for 17 yards into Florence territory, and followed that up with a 13-yard rush. On the next play, Woods took the handoff and sprinted into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown to cut the Falcons’ lead to 21-13 with 7:52 left until halftime.
Florence threatened to score before halftime after the Falcons converted a fake punt on fourth-and-4, but the Titan defense prevented them from adding to the lead.
Gadsden City continued to play well defensively in the second half, as the hosts forced a turnover on downs on Florence’s first possession. On the Falcons’ second drive of the half, the Titans forced another stop on third down.
However, GCHS was called for a personal foul that extended the drive, which led to a 26-yard field goal from Florence kicker Caleb Harkins to extend the lead to 24-13 with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter.
The Gadsden City offense started to click on its next drive, and the series was aided by a facemask penalty on the Falcons. After the penalty, Macon connected with receiver Trey Blount for a 52-yard score with 1:04 left in the third. The Titans converted the two-point attempt on another pass from Macon to Blount to cut the lead to 24-21.
The home crowd started to play a role on the Falcons’ next drive, as Florence committed two false start penalties to begin the possession. Florence attempted to pass deep in its own territory, and linebacker Calvin Wilson and other Titan defenders put pressure on the quarterback and caused a fumble. The ball popped up right into Jamari Boston’s hands, and he returned the ball 19 yards for a touchdown. Gadsden City took a 28-24 lead with 21 seconds left in the quarter.
Defensively, the Titans continued to create big plays. On the very next play, Flippo was picked off by Gadsden City defensive back Samuel Goldthreate. The Titans had the ball inside the Florence 30 but were forced to settle for a field goal. The field goal try was blocked, and the Falcons took over on their own 20-yard line with 9:17 remaining in the game.
The Titans forced another turnover on the very next play as Tyron Tripp recovered a fumble on the Florence 34-yard line. Gadsden City was forced to kick another field goal, and kicker Carlos Flores booted the ball through the uprights to extend the lead to 31-24 with 6:08 left in the game.
Florence moved the ball effectively on its next drive, and they made it all the way down to the Gadsden City 16 with less than two minutes remaining. The Falcons had to convert a fourth-and-3 with the game on the line, but the Titan defense forced a turnover on downs to preserve the victory with 1:50 left in the game.
While the Gadsden City defense was the difference in the game in the second half, Sessions said it was the offense that provided a spark in the first quarter.
“The offense gave us a spark early,” Sessions said. “There’s no doubt about that. We were reeling a little bit on defense. That’s a fine football team over there. Early, the big plays were biting us. But when we settled down and started playing good technique, we told our kids it’s really simple: you can’t control your size, you can’t control how fast you are. What you can control is your attitude, your effort and your discipline.”
The Titans forced four turnovers, and totaled 298 yards on the night. Macon led the way as he completed 17-of-23 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was an awesome week for our program,” Sessions said. “We have 32 kids on the A or A/B honor roll when report cards came out yesterday. They came out and got this win tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of kids. Doing things the right way eventually pays off.”
Gadsden City’s playoff hopes are still alive, but the Titans need to defeat Huntsville on the road next week to continue to have a chance. Gadsden City’s last three games are on the road, including region games at Huntsville and at Grissom.