By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Gadsden City High’s 2015 football season might not be over after all.
Facing a must-win situation for a postseason berth on Friday (Oct. 23), the Titans responded with a 47-30 victory over Class 7A, Region 4 rival and fifth-ranked Buckhorn at GCHS.
Although Gadsden City (5-5, 4-3) did not receive the help it needed when Hazel Green lost to top-ranked Bob Jones, the Titans could still qualify for the state playoffs if Hazel Green beats Hartselle this week and a series of tiebreakers fall in favor of Gadsden City.
Trailing by two points after the Bucks (6-3, 4-3) scored a pair touchdowns in the third quarter, the hosts turned three Buckhorn turnovers into 20 points over the final 11 minutes.
“We’ve struggled on defense this year, but we got the payoff tonight because our kids really played hard defensively,” said GCHS head coach Matt Scott. “Those turnovers were huge, and I really appreciate their perseverance, because we’ve been giving up big plays here and there and coming up just short. Our offense took over later in the second half and was able to take advantage of some opportunities. I’m really proud of out kids, and the sky’s the limit for us if we can cut out the foolish penalties.”
Trailing 21-9, Buckhorn opened the seconds half with the ball and drove 76 yards in eight plays to the GCHS 5-yard line. Josh Campbell’s subsequent touchdown run and Jason Charles’ PAT trimmed the Titans lead to five points at 9:02.
The following two GCHS possessions featured just eight plays and netted only four yards, and the visitors took advantage of that stagnant offense with a 50-yard, eight-play series that resulted in Dalen Morris’ 20-yard fade pass to Robert Ford for a touchdown. Charles’ extra point provided the Bucks with a 23-21 advantage with 1:48 left in the period.
Buckhorn’s only lead of the game lasted for exactly one minute and 35 seconds.
Three plays from scrimmage later, Ahmad DeRamus and Darnell Mooney hooked up for a 62-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion attempt failed but the Titans regained the lead at 27-23.
“That wasn’t the route that was called, so Ahmad and Darnell did a great job in that situation,” said Scott. “[Buckhorn] wasn’t playing in the formation that they normally do, so they checked it from a run-and-hitch. That’s the benefit of having a couple of senior skill players making plays like that.”
Matters continued to worsen for the New Market squad when Gadsden City recovered the fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Buckhorn 14. Jaelyn Fleming took it to the house from nine yards out two plays later, and Parker Holland’s PAT increased the GCHS lead to 34-23 at 10:54 of the fourth quarter.
The Titan defense came up with another big play shortly thereafter when Te Davis jumped on a loose ball. Williams accounted for all 33 yards on the next drive, including a 26-yard run that brought the ball to the Buck 3. Williams took it in the end zone on the next play, extending the GCHS lead to 41-23 with 8:50 remaining in the contest.
Jer’Michael Isom was the next Titan defender to step up. With Buckhorn going for it on fourth down from its own 36, the senior cornerback picked off a pass and returned it to the 42.
Williams scored from 7 yard out four plays later, making it 24-point advantage and for all intents and purposes putting the game out of reach with at 4:41 left.
Morris threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Devan Whitworth on the next possession but Gadsden City ran out the clock on the final series.
Buckhorn out-gained GCHS in total yardage by a 421 to 295 margin.
Williams was the GCHS workhorse, as the senior running back finished with 137 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries.
“Damon’s a phenomenal player,” said Scott. “He’s got a great skill set both as a receiver and a runner. Nothing he does out there surprises me. That’s a good combination back there with him and Jaelyn Fleming.”
DeRamus was 6-for-12 in passing for 155 yards, while Darnell Mooney had four receptions for 125 yards.
Scott noted that running back Rodney Bozeman and receivers Denzel Mooney and Jaylon Williams were out with injuries.
“Those are three important skill players for us, so I helped us out depth-wise that some other kids did a good job in stepping up,” said Scott.
The Titans scored on their first two possessions of the game for a 14-0 lead. The opening series ended with Williams’ nine-yard touchdown run at 8:06 of the first quarter and the second was capped by DeRamus’ 76-yard scoring pass to Darnell Mooney at 3:24. Holland provided both extra points.
Buckhorn drew within 14-6 on Ignont’s seven-yard TD run with 30 seconds left in the opening quarter, but after stopping the visitors on a forth down conversion attempt midway through the second quarter, Gadsden City put together a 78-yard, eight play drive that Williams polished off with a 10-yard touchdown run. Holland’s extra point made it a 21-6 lead with just less than three minutes left before the half.
Buckhorn answered with its longest possession of the game, a 16-play, 75-yard series that included four first-down conversions. Charles’ 25-yard field goal at the buzzer pulled the Bucks within 21-9 at intermission.
Ignont paced the Buckhorn ground game with 79 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Morris completed 15-of-30 passes for 235 yards. Ford caught eight passes for 112 yards.
“All we can do is sit and wait and see what happens in some of the other games next week,” said Scott. “We’re very disappointed that we put ourselves in this situation to start with, but if we do get in [the playoffs], we feel like we have as good a chance as anybody to make a run.”