GAYLESVILLE – The Gaylesville Trojans have their share of adversity every football season it seems.
Already this season, they’ve had to forfeit a game against Ragland due to COVID concerns. Then this week, the Trojans battled the injury bug with two starters out while another player moved out of town.
Even with all that, Gaylesville persevered in its Class 1A, Region 7game against visiting Valley Head. Trailing by 13 points in the third quarter, the Trojans trimmed their deficit to five with just under six minutes to go in the game. However, an 84-yard touchdown run by Tiger running back Bryson Morgan with 5:32 remaining stretched Valley Head’s lead back out, and the Tigers held on for a 34-28 victory.
“In essence, if you think about it, they made one more play than we did,” Gaylesville coach Brian Knapp said. “We cut it five and we had to come up with a big stop, but give credit to them. It looked like an off-tackle play. He (Morgan) put his foot in the ground and he went north and south and made a great play. We were super-winded at that point.”
“It was huge,” Valley Head coach Heath Vincent said of Morgan’s fourth-quarter touchdown run. “We knew this was going to be a physical game. I told our guys that they (Gaylesville) were going to have some big plays and we were going to have respond to it. I thought we did on that play, and I thought we did several times.
“It was back and forth, the way it should be. I was proud of the resiliency of our guys. We knew how good they were offensively and the weapons they have. They showed it at times and we didn’t respond very well at times during the game. I thought when we needed to we bowed up and had some stops. We had some great offensive series that bailed us out of trouble and we were able to get points on the board when we needed it.”
Gaylesville (3-2, 2-1) looked as if it would set the tone early on its first drive, marching into Tiger territory at the 41-yard line after a bobbled snap on a punt resulted in a DJ Lee run for a first down. However, a Trojan fumble was recovered by Valley Head, and the Tigers wasted little time cashing in the turnover. Eian Bain dashed 42 yards for a touchdown two plays later, giving the Tigers a 6-0 lead with 7:18 to go in the opening quarter.
After another Gaylesville fumble on the kickoff, Valley Head scored again on a 33-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jordan Burt. The Tigers led 12-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Trojans were finally able to establish a scoring drive of their own after a Burt fumble was recovered by Seth Lee at the Gaylesville 10. The Trojans marched 90 yards in 16 plays, capped off by a 7-yard zig-zag touchdown run by DJ Lee. Lee completed the ensuing 2-point conversion pass to Keylon Higgins to trim Valley Head’s advantage to 12-8 with 1:19 remaining in the first half.
That was enough time for the Tigers to score again. They drove inside the Trojan 5, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Noah Hulgan. Hulgan’s kick was good as Valley Head extended its lead to 15-8 at halftime.
The Tigers had the football to begin the third quarter, but a Morgan fumble was recovered again by the Trojans’ Seth Lee. Gaylesville couldn’t turn the turnover into points as DJ Lee fell just short of a first down on a fake punt, giving the Tigers the ball back near midfield.
On Valley Head’s ensuing drive, Burt connected on his only completion of the game – a 52-yarder to Pacey Cooper – to give the Tigers a first-and-goal at the Trojan 8. Two plays later, Burt ran it in from a yard out to push Valley Head’s lead out to 21-8 with 4:50 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Trojans didn’t lie down.
After a 41-yard kickoff return by DJ Lee, Gaylesville was in business at the Tiger 26. Six plays later, DJ Lee scored again on a 5-yard run. His 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete, but the Trojans were back in the game trailing 21-14.
Valley Head responded with another touchdown on its next drive. This time, Morgan scored on a 5-yard run to extend the Tiger lead to 27-14 with 9:06 left in the game.
But Gaylesville battled back once again on a 9-play, 63-yard drive. DJ Lee capped the drive by scoring his third touchdown of the game. This one came from two yards out. He also connected with Higgins on another 2-point conversion to bring the Trojans within five at 27-22 with 5:52 to go.
Gaylesville even had the Tigers backed up at their own 16-yard line after the kickoff, but that’s when Morgan dashed 84 yards for another Valley Head score. The extra point made it a 34-22 Tiger lead.
The Trojans came back with another score on a 10-play, 53-yard drive as DJ Lee connected with Higgins on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 1:44 remaining. DJ Lee’s rush for two fell short on the 2-point conversion, but the Trojans found themselves within six at 34-28.
After Gaylesville failed to recover the on-side kick, Valley Head ran out the clock for the final.
DJ Lee finished the game with 141 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns. He also 3-of-9 pass attempts for 82 yards and a touchdown and two 2-point conversions. On defense he had eight tackles and an assist.
Jacob Gordon added 32 yards on 10 carries. He also caught three passes for 62 yards and had eight tackles with two assists. Michael Reynolds had 42 yards on 11 totes.
Burt ran for 140 yards and two scores on 17 totes for Valley Head. Morgan ran for 125 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns. Bain had 112 yards and a touchdown on just four carries.
“We were short-manned, but they kept battling and they kept believing,” Knapp said. “I think late in the first quarter they realized we can physically play with them. I think that was the turning point, but hat’s off to them (Valley Head). They’ve got a really good football team, but I think we do too. I was proud of them. I learned some things about our kids, which will make us more multiple. You have to admire and be proud of the guts our kids showed tonight. I think that’s a sign we’re heading in the right direction.”
Gaylesville hosts Alabama School for the Deaf on Friday. Valley Head returns home to host Ider.