By Erik Harris
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — On Sept. 21, Gardendale limped out of Driver Stadium with a 41-point loss to Vestavia and an 0-3 region record on their mind.
One month later, the Rockets stood before their fans with arms locked as they proudly sang the school’s alma mater, after all but securing a post-season berth with a 43-21 beating of Hewitt-Trussville.
The Rockets have now reeled off four straight victories, three of them in region play. They have also all but assured themselves of a post-season berth. All they have to do is take care of winless Carver next week and they are playoff bound.
“It feels great,” said Gardendale head coach Chris Fancher. “Our players did a great job of preparing and we are 4-0 in a short season.”
The win over the Huskies improves their region record to 3-3, which makes them the likely No. 4 seed coming out of Region 6. “It feels amazing knowing that we are making our way [to the playoffs] every day,” said Gardendale’s Jesse Blackburn.
The Rockets simply dismantled Hewett in the pivotal region matchup. They used running back Jordan Howard as a battering ram that broke the Huskies will.
Hewitt took the field in the second half with momentum after running back Donovan Miller scored in the final seconds of the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 20-14 in favor of the Rockets. That was Millers second rushing score of the night.
Gardendale’s defense forced the Huskies to punt on the opening drive of the second half. Then Howard silenced the Hewitt sideline with a violent stiff-arm run that propelled him 81 yards to the end zone.
That made the score 26-14 in Gardendale’s favor, and the Huskies were never able to recover
Howard put up “PlayStation numbers,” as the Rocket coaching staff likes to say. He racked up a gaudy 277 yards on only 15 carries with three touchdowns. That’s over 18 yards per carry.
Moments after Howard’s touchdown, Blackburn increased the lead to 33-14 with a one-handed pick-six score. He ended the night with two interceptions, two tackles, a pair of receptions for 40 yards and one rushing touchdown from seven yards out.
Gardendale quarterback Hunter Crook was an efficient 4-of-8 for 81 yards on the night. He ran an option keeper in from the 14 on the opening drive of the game.
The Huskies were able to manage a surprising 20 first downs in the game while totaling 243 yards of offense. The Rockets moved the chains 15 times, but nearly doubled their opponents output with 427 total yards.
Gardendale kicker Sam Peacock nailed a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Hewitt answered with a late touchdown from back-up running back Kyle Thomas.
Gardendale’s back seven played a sound game defensively. They gave up no big plays and served a big role in run support.
Cornerback Juan Jackson recorded eight tackles, linebacker Damien Boyd led the team with nine solo stops and linebacker Khaleb Burdette consistently found the football with eight tackles and five assists.
It’s the third straight loss for Hewitt (3-5, 2-4 region), and effectively takes them out of playoff contention. They face Huffman next week.