By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — Shades Valley didn’t get the memo. Visiting teams are supposed to be pushovers at homecoming games.
But the eighth-ranked Mounties proved to be unyielding guests, as they defeated Gardendale 61-28 Friday night.
The trouble started early for the hosts, who took the opening kickoff down to the Mounties’ 5-yard line, then went backward with a false-start penalty and a quarterback sack. A 32-yard field goal attempt went wide, and the drive came up empty.
Shades Valley wasted no time in taking advantage, marching 80 yards downfield in two-and-a-half minutes with quarterback Rashad Louie finishing it off on a 5-yard touchdown run.
It was a sign of things to come from the junior passer. Louie would throw no less than six touchdown passes on the night, finishing with 20 completions on 27 attempts for 369 yards. It was perhaps Louie’s best game as a Mountie, according to coach Bill Smith.
“It was a very, very good performance for Rashad,” Smith said. “This was his best game ever. He’s accurate, he throws a really good deep ball and he knows how to stay alive in the pocket. He has a good timing mechanism — check one, check two, check three, run the ball.”
It was his checkdown ability that served him well. Few of his scoring throws were to the primary receiver, and he had the athletic ability to break open for long runs when forced. Tops among them was a 48-yard scramble on the second play of the second half that moved the ball down to the Rocket 19-yard line; he found A.J. Conwell for a 13-yard touchdown two plays after that.
Louie also didn’t waste any time applying the dagger after Gardendale made big mistakes. Twice he threw long touchdown passes on the first play after Rocket turnovers — a 35-yard strike to Jourdan Walker after a fumble in the second quarter, and a 37-yard toss to Bryan Generette after Hunter Crook coughed up an interception.
The effort impressed Gardendale coach Matt Plunkett as well. "I thought he was extremeply patient tonight," Plunkett said.
Conwell, Walker and Generette were each on the receiving end of two touchdown passes from Louie. The quarterback also ran for 102 yards on 10 carries.
Shades Valley also had touchdown runs from running back Keith Mixon, and backup quarterback Claude Newell late in the game.
In total, the Mounties gained 601 yards in total offense for the night. Their 61-point total sets a new school record for a single game, according to records maintained by the Alabama High School Football Historical Society.
Despite the lopsided score, Gardendale had its moments, and were still in the game as late as the third quarter. Crook found Gabe Hill for an 11-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the first quarter, and then got the ball into the outstretched fingertips of Austin Hicks for a 59-yard strike late in the second period.
Moreover, the game was also a continuation of the coming out for Rockets sophomore running back De’Qua Houston. After scoring three consecutive touchdowns last week against Huffman, Houston added two more second-half scores — a 12-yard dash into open space in the third quarter and a 5-yard run in the fourth.
"He's been in our JV program and he had battled an ankle injury for about three weeks," Plunkett said. "When he got better we said, 'Hey, he needs a shot,' and he showed out against Huffman."
Houston finished the game with 101 yards on 22 carries. On the downside, he also committed the fumble that led to Louie's scoring pass to Walker in the first half.
Crook had big passing numbers despite the loss, going 21-for-29 for 282 yards with two interceptions, both by safety-turned-cornerback Mike Carter.
Freshman Andrew Freeman stood out on defense again for Gardendale, with nine solo tackles, three assists and a sack. SEC prospect Daron Payne, listed by several recruiting rankings as one of the best defensive tackles in the nation, led the Mounties with seven tackles.
The Mounties remain unbeaten going into a huge battle at No. 6 Vestavia Hills next week. Gardendale (4-3, 3-2 region) is still very much in the playoff hunt thanks to its win over Mountain Brook earlier in the season; they face Hewitt-Trussville on the road next week, followed by Carver at home.
"We've got a lot to play for still. As I told my players, the playoffs start for us next week. That's Round One," Plunkett said.