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Trojans ‘stay the course’, capture 38-30 season-opening football win over Whitesburg Christian

Gaylesville fullback Keylon Higgins concentrates on catching a 2-point conversion pass against Whitesburg Christian on Friday night. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

GAYLESVILLE – Gaylesville football coach Brian Knapp preaches all the time to the Trojans if they can stay close in the fourth quarter, then they have a great chance of winning.

On Friday night against Whitesburg Christian, Knapp’s players found out why Knapp harps on the fourth quarter so hard.

Senior running back Michael Reynolds ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns on 22 totes. Junior fullback Keylon Higgins added 166 yards on 17 carries and a score, and senior running back Hunter Penney had 68 yards on eight carries and a touchdown in the Trojans’ 38-30 season-opening victory.

“It was a total unselfish effort on our kids’ part. I was pleased,” Knapp said. “This was our jamboree, so there were a lot of mistakes made, but we stayed the course.”

Reynolds said running is the Trojans specialty.

“We have everything we need to run the ball,” he said. “Coach Knapp makes us mentally tough. He pushes us every day to be the best we can be. We outlasted them because of him.”

“We’re machines,” Higgins added. “I’m just glad my team pulled through and got a win.”

But it wasn’t easy.

The Trojans (1-0) used a bit of trickery on the first play of the game by recovering an onside kick near midfield. Seven plays later, Reynolds scored his first touchdown of the night on a 14-yard burst.

Junior quarterback Tanner Eads, who suffered an ACL injury in the spring, tossed a 2-point conversion pass to Higgins to the give the Trojans an 8-0 advantage with 8:49 to go in the opening quarter.

The Trojans’ lead lasted all of 13 seconds on the clock. That’s the amount of time it took Warrior running back Ryan Turner to run 56 yards for a touchdown on Whitesburg Christian’s first offensive play. Quarterback Kaleb Robinson completed a 2-point conversion pass to tight end David Suddeth to tie the game at 8.

The Trojans responded on their ensuing drive with another Reynolds touchdown, this one from a yard away. An Eads pass for two fell incomplete, keeping Gaylesville’s lead at 14-8 with 5:04 to go in the first quarter.

Whitesburg Christian (0-1) countered with a Robinson-to-Isaiah Matthews 14-yard touchdown connection. Turner ran in for the 2-point conversion, giving the Warriors a 16-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Robinson completed 12-of-29 pass attempts for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

Following a Trojan interception late in the second quarter, Gaylesville cashed the turnover in on Penney’s 17-yard touchdown run. Reynolds ran in for two, giving the Trojans a 22-16 advantage at halftime.

Gaylesville had a chance to increase its lead by receiving the second-half kickoff, but a Penney fumble was recovered by the Warriors.

Whitesburg Christian then marched 77 yards in 11 plays, which was capped by Robinson’s 8-yard touchdown toss to tight end John David Looser. Robinson’s pass on the 2-point conversion was batted down, keeping the score knotted at 22 with 6:35 remaining in the third.

Reynolds scored his final touchdown of the night five plays later. This one went for seven yards. Eads added the 2-point conversion pass to Seth Lee, pushing the Gaylesville lead to eight at 30-22.

Whitesburg Christian responded again with a 10-play, 57-yard drive which ended with Turner’s second touchdown of the night. This one was from seven yards. He also ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 30 at the end of the third.

Turner tallied 180 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.

The Trojans opened the fourth quarter with a gut-check. They faced a fourth-and-3 at their own 41-yard line with 8:50 remaining. Instead of punting, Knapp went for it, and it paid off big. Reynolds was handed the ball and gained seven yards for the first down.

Four plays later, Higgins ran for an 8-yard score. Reynolds added another 2-point conversion, and with 6:29 to go in the game, Gaylesville led 38-30.

Needing a defensive stop, the Trojans got one from freshman linebacker Hunter Allmond. Allmond intercepted Robinson near the end zone with 4:05 remaining.

“Of course, he made a freshman mistake and spiked it, but that’s growing pains,” Knapp said on the Trojans’ ensuing penalty. “But we were able to take the football and run the belly play and make them like it.”

Three straight Reynolds runs went for 26, 16 and 8 yards. Higgins delivered the dagger with a 33-yard burst to pushed the ball down to the Warrior 16-yard line.

A pair of Eads kneel downs killed the clock and preserved the Trojan win. He finished the game completing 5-of-10 pass attempts for 48 yards.

“I’m proud of these guys because when they run the football, their pad level goes forward,” Knapp said. “There isn’t any doubt it’s going forward.”

The Trojans travel to Ragland next Friday.

“They’re very athletic, but our game plan is not going to change,” Knapp said. “We’ve got to get a bunch of ice baths between now and then to get well, but this win gives us motivation to get ready for next week.”

Gaylesville’s Hunter Penney breaks a tackle on a run against Whitesburg Christian on Friday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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