Driver Stadium

Gardendale head coach Matt Plunkett talks to his team following a 26-13 win over James Clemens. 

After Gardendale senior Steven Crowder woke up and wiped the sleep from his eyes on Friday morning, he had one thing on his mind.

It’s all he could think about on his drive to school, and once he sat down, pen in hand, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound student-athlete dominated the math test that shook him all morning.

Later that night he would dominate again. This time in a 26-13 upset of the second-ranked Class 7A team in the state—James Clemens—at Driver Stadium.

“I actually woke up this morning and was concentrated on school work. I had a test today, so I was studying hard for that and I came to the locker room and just prayed to have a good game, came out here and God blessed me today,” said Crowder following what head coach Matt Plunkett called one of the biggest wins in program history.

Crowder, a Navy pledge and an devout math student, made his mark all over the field, scoring on a 30-yard strip and score as a linebacker, a 17-yard read-option keeper as a quarterback and a 13-yard pitch and catch as a receiver. His final score of the evening came on a critical 4th-and-8 in the closing minutes. He quietly stepped away from the action as quarterback Michael Crowder (his younger brother) rolled right, planted and tossed it back the other way to a wide open big brother, giving the Rockets a 26-13 advantage with 8:54 remaining.

“He’s a total team player and the guy has really taken on the personality of the entire team,” said Plunkett of Steven Crowder. “He’s the heartbeat of our team, him and (linebacker) Andrew Freeman, but Steven had taken charge of this team as a leader.”

Gardendale (2-0) needed to find confidence early in the game, and did so with opportunistic defense. Jacob Wright scooped up a loose ball in the James Clemens’ backfield and rumbled 60 yards, giving the home team a 7-0 lead with 0:36 left in the first frame. On the Jets’ next offensive snap, Steven Crowder cradled another loose ball and ran to a 13-0 advantage through one quarter of play.

“Everyone executed up front and the ball just happened to bounce in my hand. If it would’ve bounced in someone else’s hands, I know they would have scored because they’re all fighters,” said Steven Crowder.

With a short field to work with, James Clemens eventually got on the board midway through the second quarter. First-year starting quarterback Nowlin Jackson placed a soft fade into the end zone where senior Joseph Logan did the rest, cutting the deficit to 13-6.

The Jets captured, perhaps, their brightest moment of the game in the third quarter when Bradley Belt finished a 14-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown rush. It was still 20-13 in favor of Gardendale, but a talented James Clemens defense, led by three SEC-caliber players (defensive end LaBryan Ray, linebacker Monty Rice and defensive back Kyriq McDonald) forced a three-and-out to completely shift momentum to the visitors.

But a stout Rockets’ defense held strong and set the stage for a haymaker: Crowder to Crowder from 13 yards out.

“I knew our defense was pretty good, but we’re a little better than I thought we were and we have room to improve,” said Plunkett.

For Gardendale, Michael Crowder went 11-of-25 through the air for 111 yards and a score. His offense struggled to run on a stiff Jets defense that allowed well under 50 yards on the ground.

Defensively, Steven Crowder totaled 22 tackles with two quarterback sacks. Andrew Freeman secured 16 tackles, three of them for loss. Parker Chambers and Stephen Lancaster pulled down interceptions. 

The Rockets welcome Pell City next Friday while James Clemens visits Bob Jones.

Erik Harris is the Sports Editor of The North Jefferson News. Email him at njnsports@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @jeharris2.

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