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Gaylesville can’t keep pace with West End

Gaylesville’s Kyler Bradley looks for running room against West End of Walnut Grove on Friday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

GAYLESVILLE – For the better part in the first half of Friday’s high school football season opener against West End of Walnut Grove, the Gaylesville Trojans proved resilient.

They took the Patriots’ early punches and bounced up off the canvas. They had a touchdown lead early in the second quarter, but just simply could not keep up the pace of their Class 2A counterpart.

Junior running back Rockman Sainsbury gained 118 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns, and senior quarterback Tyler Jones completed 5-of-10 pass attempts for 143 yards and two scores in leading the Patriots to a 63-26 victory.

“We self-destructed,” Gaylesville coach Brian Knapp said. “We jumped on them 14-7, and then we had a penalty that really hurt us. It gave them a short field and they scored on the next play. We don’t have a ton of depth. We have to play perfect. I’m having to throw the ball a lot, not by a whole lot of choice because I like to run the football, but we just don’t have a ton of running backs. I’ve had to try to get the ball to some of our guys in space. We’ve done some good things in the passing game, but the problem is when you turn it over, when you throw an incomplete pass, that clock stops and makes for a long night like tonight.”

It looked like it might be a long night from the very beginning for the Trojans (0-1). On Gaylesville’s third offensive play of the game, senior quarterback Tanner Eads threw an interception near midfield to the Patriots’ Thad Pearce. Just three plays later, Sainsbury scored on a 15-yard run to put West End (1-0) in front 7-0 with 9:40 remaining in the first quarter.

But give Gaylesville credit. The Trojans methodically marched 80 yards in 13 plays on their next drive, resulting in an Eads 20-yard touchdown toss to junior Kyler Bradley. Keylon Higgins ran in the 2-point conversion to give Gaylesville an 8-7 advantage with 2:37 left in the opening quarter.

The Trojans added to their lead following a Patriot missed field goal. Eads connected with an open Higgins in the middle of the field for a 72-yard score. The try for two failed, but Gaylesville held a 14-7 lead with 10:42 to go in the first half.

West End countered with Kane Lawson’s 47-yard touchdown run on its next possession to tie the game at 14, then Eads threw his second interception of the game to Pearce to give the Patriots the ball back. Three plays later, Jones tossed an 18-yard scoring strike to senior tight end Eli Golden. The touchdown gave the Patriots a 21-14 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the first half.

Following a Gaylesville punt, Jones connected with Lawson on a 48-yard score to give the Patriots some separation at halftime, 28-14.

West End began to put the game out of reach in the third quarter. Lawson, who ran for 73 yards on just four carries, scored on a 3-yard run on the Patriots’ first possession of the second half. After a botched Gaylesville punt, Sainsbury scored on a 9-yard run to put the Patriots in front 42-14.

West End’s Jaxon Hamby picked off another Eads pass on a tipped ball and returned it for another score in the third quarter, giving the Patriots a commanding 49-14 advantage.

But on the ensuing kickoff, Higgins dashed 88 yards for a touchdown. The try for two was no good, keeping the score at 49-20 in the Patriots’ favor after three quarters.

Eads connected with Bradley on an 18-yard score on the Trojans’ first drive of the fourth quarter to make it a 49-26 game, but West End closed things out on Sainsbury’s 11-yard touchdown run and another Hamby defensive score, this one on a Higgins fumble for the final.

Eads completed 11-of-27 pass attempts for 211 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. Bradley caught six passes for 88 yards and two scores. Higgins ran for 60 yards on 16 carries.

“(Depth) took a toll on us no doubt,” Knapp said. “They’re big and strong. They’re a bigger school. I tell people this all the time. I don’t think we’re the smallest school in the state of Alabama playing football, but we’re pretty close. The depth really took a toll on us.

“We’ve got to keep trying to establish the run game. I think our passing game was okay, but we’ve got to keep trying to hammer the ball to try and put games away throughout the season.”

The Trojans look to regroup with an off week, then return to action on Sept. 2 at Coosa Christian to begin Class 1A, Region 7 play.

West End returns home to face Susan Moore on Friday.

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