The No. 8-ranked Gardendale Rockets (7-1, 4-1 Class 6A, Region 6) looked like a rested football team on Friday night in Driver Stadium.
Coming off a bye week, Gardendale returned to play with a 35-13 Class 6A, Region 6 win over Shades Valley (2-6, 1-4). Quarterback Will “Goose” Crowder was one of several Rockets that needed the extra week.
“It was huge. We got a bunch of guys rested and healed up and we were chomping at the bit after that week off; we were ready to come out here and play,” said Crowder following the game.
The junior right-hander finished the game with two touchdowns to go with 213 yards passing. He stretched Gardendale’s second-quarter lead to 14-0 with a 24-yard strike to Stephen Lewis on a double-move.
“We had a great design. Coach [Heath] McCoy called it in, coach [William] Eads and coach [Ken] Sanders have been coaching it all week, so it was a nice double-move and I knew Stephen was going to come down with it,” said Crowder of his first score of the evening.
He later answered Shades Valley’s first score of the game with a six-play touchdown drive that ended with his 8-yard toss to running back Jayson Brooks. Brooks caught the ball in the flat and shot up the right side for his only score of the night, extending the lead to 28-7 with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Gardendale’s defense put up another strong showing, forcing seven Mounties punts to go with a third-quarter turnover. Defensive back Justin Parks blitzed off the edge and ran down Shades Valley quarterback Earl Woods for a strip-sack which was recovered by defensive lineman Isaiah Robinson in Mounties’ territory.
The region win guarantees Gardendale a spot in the Class 6A playoff bracket for the sixth year in a row. Their seeding is still to be determined with two regular season games remaining: at Oxford in Week 9 and at home against Mountain Brook in Week 10.
Rockets sophomore L.T. Sanders continued his strong season with two more rushing touchdowns on Friday night. He got things started with a 4-yard score on the second snap of the second quarter and later put a bow on the team’s seventh win of the season with a 5-yard touchdown dash off left tackle—Gardendale’s final non-victory-formation play of the game.
Junior Kaniji Chandler also got in on the running game with a powerful goal line punch midway through the third quarter. After a long third-and-12 conversion from Crowder to Sanders, Chandler checked in for the score, covering the final 11 yards on two carries for a 21-0 lead.
Following the game, Gardendale head coach Chad Eads pointed to the week off as an opportunity to create competition within his roster.
“To be honest with you, we went out and practiced about an hour a day on those days we were off and just tried to get everybody healthy, tried to get some young kids some work, found some competition at some positions that weren’t improving as quickly as we needed them to,” said Eads. “It’s amazing how competition fixes a lot of things.”