Gardendale’s Tyler Nelson would not be denied.
The senior quarterback ran for four touchdowns and 295 yards and scored the game-winning 2-point conversion with 19 seconds remaining to secure a 29-28 victory over Mountain Brook to claim the Class 6A, Region 5 title in the battle of ranked teams.
After Class 6A, No. 9-ranked Gardendale (7-2 overall, 5-1 in region) scored on Nelson’s 1-yard sneak with 19 seconds to go, coach Chad Eads called for the 2-point conversion attempt that Nelson took up the gut untouched into the end zone.
Nelson’s night wasn’t perfect. He threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Spartans’ Mac Palmer — one on the Rockets’ second possession of the game and another in the third quarter — to put the Spartans on top 28-14 with 9:39 to go in the third.
Nelson’s teammates and coaches never lost faith in him.
“He came back out playing,” Eads said. “He threw the pick-6, and came back out and just kept playing. I don’t know that any of our kids were born the last time we won a region title, but this is a great moment for them, and against an opponent like Mountain Brook that is a great win.”
Fifth-ranked Mountain Brook got the ball back after the two-point conversion, but made a critical error, as the returner called for a fair catch at the 2-yard line. A last-second, desperation hook-and-lateral play failed as time ran out, and the Rockets stormed the field at Spartan Stadium to celebrate the program’s first region title since 2006.
“It feels really good,” Nelson said after the win. “We ain’t been region champs in a minute, so it feels really good to bring it home. When I impose my will on a team, and I see they can’t handle me, I have to impose my will. At the end of the game, it’s mano-a-mano, it’s me against them. I just had to get in the end zone, get to that paydirt.”
“There’s a lot of things I thought we got better at tonight,” Spartans head coach Chris Yeager said. “I do know this: As good as that quarterback is, we needed to see that. We’ve not seen a quarterback like that. We’ve seen some shifty, elusive quarterbacks … he was everything that we thought he would be. He’s a one-man show. I mean, you know, he’s something else.”
Play of the game: Nelson broke off a 70-yard touchdown run with 3:09 to go in the third quarter to pull the Rockets to within one score. It was his longest run of the game, as he also tallied touchdown runs of 52, 64 and 1 yard.
By the numbers: 4 — Gardendale’s defense stepped up big in the second half, stopping the Mountain Brook offense on four straight possessions to help get the Rockets back into the game.
Stat sheet: Nelson ran 28 times for 295 yards and scored all four touchdowns for the Rockets, as Gardendale went on a 13-play drive for the game-winner.
They said it: “We’re athletic on defense, and we don’t give up. That’s something we’ve been working on this year — that when things don’t go our way that we find a way to make them work out for us. I was glad to see us finally do that tonight.” — Eads
“The kids learned a lot of things tonight. This one is going to be memorable. They’ve learned some tough lessons. We’ll be better for this.” — Yeager
“At the beginning it was a little rocky, but the offensive line played great. We played a complete game. They really stepped it up and gave me time, allowed me to extend plays.” — Nelson
What’s next?: Gardendale hosts 2021 6A state finalist Hueytown next week, while Mountain Brook goes on the road to play Baker.