Sometimes, even when they are favored, a team simply has to find a way to win a game.
And that’s exactly what Gardendale did on Friday night.
Down by two points to a Bessemer City team that was not their equal on paper, the Rockets’ went to running back Jordan Howard yet again, who charged four yards for a touchdown with 1:24 remaining to give Gardendale an 18-14 home victory, and an important regional win.
It was Howard’s third score of the night for the Rockets (1-1, 1-0), who were down by eight points with less than five minutes to play.
The combination of Howard’s running and Will Thompson’s passing to LeRoy Stover was the difference in the waning minutes.
Thompson found Stover on three important passes for a combined 34 yards to put the ball at the Tigers 29, then Howard ran the ball three times, the last for nine yards and a touchdown with 4:50 left on the clock.
The Rockets went for two to tie the game, but Thompson — from the 8-yard line because of a penalty — missed Howard, and the score stood at 14-12.
Bessemer was held to a three-and-out, and Gardendale ended up in good field position after a 20-yard kickoff return by Connor Reed put the ball at the Bessemer 40.
After a 10-yard Howard run, Thompson found an opening and took off running, but fumbled the ball. He recovered it at the Tigers 4 for a 26-yard gain.
Thompson tried to connect with Reed for paydirt, but threw wide. So next he handed off to Howard, who did the rest and put the hosts ahead for good.
Howard totaled 228 yards on 23 carries, by far his best effort to date.
Gardendale coach Chris Fancher was happy to see his team pull it out at the end, but wasn’t pleased with how they got themselves in that situation — including a golden opportunity with first down and goal at the 2-yard line in the first quarter. A penalty drove them back to the seven, and a Thompson fumble ended the threat.
“You simply cannot give up a chance like that on the two, pure and simple,” Fancher said. “But teams all over America have to find a way to win games like this every week, and we did.”
Gardendale drew first blood early, when they took the ball over on their own 10. Howard only needed one play to convert, dashing 90 yards down the Tiger sideline and evading a tackle near the goal line. The extra point was blocked.
Bessemer (0-2, 0-1) countered with a 65-yard drive, finished off by a half-yard dive by Domonique Allen with 2:09 left in the first.
The Tigers went up 14-8 with an 80-yard drive, capped off by a 5-yard run by Barkei Minter with 9:08 left in the game.
Gardendale gained 319 yards on the ground compared to Bessemer’s 193, and led in total offense 401 yards to 236. Stover finished with eight receptions for 66 yards. Thompson was 11-for-18 for the night for 82 yards passing. Brandon DeBruce had eight tackles with one sack.
Gardendale travels to Carver next Friday.