By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Oxford’s Racean Thomas may have eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark last Friday, but the Gadsden City defense made sure that statistic was all for naught in the Titans’ 28-21 Class 6A, Region 7 victory at GCHS.
With the game tied at 21-21 late in the third quarter and the No. 8 Yellow Jackets deep inside GCHS territory, Titan senior linebacker Rashad Carter scooped up a fumble by Thomas and returned it 70 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Carter’s big play sparked the Gadsden City defense, as Oxford’s final three possessions ended with two punts and a failed fourth down conversion attempt. The closest the visitors got the rest of the way was to the Titan 33-yard line.
A nationally-recruited junior, Thomas gained 44 of his game-high 277 yards after Carter’s touchdown but was a non-factor in the Jackets’ final series.
With 1:26 left in the game and Oxford starting at its own 35, the Yellow Jackets gained a total of minus-6 yards, including a five-yard penalty. Thomas did not carry the ball during the drive, and a pass intended for Thomas on first down and 15 fell incomplete.
The win moved Gadsden City (3-0, 2-0) in a first-place region tie with Huntsville and second-ranked Clay-Chalkville.
“This game gave us the opportunity to prove what we preached,” said GCHS head coach Joe Billingsley. “It seemed that whenever Oxford needed a long drive or a big play, they put one together, and it was pretty much the same thing for us. It just happened that the ball bounced our way a couple of times in the second half. We also didn’t turn the ball over, which I’m very pleased with.”
Helped in large part by Thomas’ performance, Oxford (1-2, 0-2) out-gained GCHS, 377 to 259 in total yards.
For the Titans, C.J. Moore completed 7-of-16 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Veasy had three catches for 59 yards and a score.
Trevor Sandridge the GCHS ground game with 55 yards on 16 carries. Chris Lawrence added 32 yards on four carries.
Following an exchange of punts, Oxford opened the scoring on the game’s third series.
In what turned out to be the Yellow Jackets longest drive of the night, the visitors used up almost seven minutes of clock time to go 60 yards in 12 plays. The possession was capped by William Webber’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Joseph McGuire. Webber tacked on the PAT, giving the visitors a 7-0 lead at 1:44 of the opening quarter.
The Titans immediately responded when C.J. Moore and B.J. Hammond hooked up on a 75-yard touchdown pass two plays later. Hammond caught the ball around midfield and took off down the right sideline, and the first of Austin Piazza’s four extra points tied the game at 7-7 with 47.1 seconds left in the period.
Both teams had difficulty moving the ball during most of the second quarter, until Thomas’ 20-yard scoring run provided Oxford with a seven-point advantage with 1:40 remaining until halftime.
That lead lasted all of 13 seconds, as LeGerald Malone took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to paydirt for a 14-14 tie at 1:27.
The Yellow Jackets made it to the GCHS 18 on the first half’s final possession, but the drive fizzled out on a failed fourth down conversion attempt.
The Titans took their first lead of the game on the second half’s opening possession, an 11-play, 67-yard affair that ended on Moore’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Veasy at 7:53 of the third quarter. Veasy kept the drive alive with as 23-yard catch on a third and 11 that put the hosts at the Oxford 30.
Gadsden City had little time to enjoy the above advantage.
On the third play of the following series, Thomas took a handoff and raced around left end for a 75-yard touchdown run. With Webber’s PAT, the game was tied at 21-21 with 6:32 left in the period.
The Yellow Jackets came up with a big fourth-down stop on the Titans’ next series, but Carter’s huge play a few minutes later in the quarter stood up as the game’s turning point.
Webber was 6-for-16 for 91 yards in passing, all in the first half. Oxford attempted just four passes after halftime, all incomplete. McGuire had four receptions for 76 yards.
“Both teams played extremely hard, and it could have went either way,” said Billingsley. “This was a big game, but the next game’s just as important.”
Gadsden City visits Albertville on Friday in another region contest.