Tough breaks

Jackson Burkhalter looks for running room for Pell City on Friday.

Bob Crisp/The Daily Home

PELL CITY -- Quick question: Who is the best quarterback in the state of Alabama?

Ask Gardendale head coach Matt Plunkett, and he’ll tell you the state’s best QB resides on his team’s sideline, in the person of senior Michael Crowder.

For one night, it was hard to argue.

Crowder and the Rockets’ offense were nearly flawless Friday night at Pete Rich Stadium -- the senior passed for 257 yards in the first half against the Panthers, leading the way to a 53-7 victory.

“I’m extremely proud of Michael Crowder,” Plunkett said. “We knew he had potential and he worked so hard this week.

“He was the best quarterback in the state tonight.”

Very little the Rockets (1-1) did on offense Friday night didn’t work -- Gardendale led 29-7 at halftime and 50-7 midway through the third quarter.

“They just pushed us around up front,” Pell City head coach Keith Etheredge said. “They have big guys and good (skill) people on offense, and they just beat us up.”

The Panthers (1-1) did get 80 yards out of junior Darius Garrett, who scored Pell City’s only touchdown midway through the second quarter on a 1-yard run. The touchdown cut the Rockets’ lead to 14-7 and appeared to energize the home crowd.

It took the Rockets eight plays to take the wind out of them -- Crowder completed passes of 12 and 43 yards, then converted a fourth down with an 11-yard completion. Sophomore Jayson Brooks scored from 13 yards away, and Gardendale led 21-7. By halftime, the score was 29-7.

Gardendale senior back Stephen Lancaster was the key to the Rockets’ ground attack, rushing for 100 yards on 11 carries and scoring three touchdowns. His third score, a 19-yard run, capped the opening drive of the second half and made the score 36-7. The Rockets added a 3-yard sneak by Crowder and a 1-yard plunge by Jacob Wright before the heat timeout mark in the third quarter.

“I thought we played very well in all phases,” Plunkett said. “It’s just one game, so we need to go back to the drawing board as we go into region play.”

Pell City’s Keshon Horton finished the game with 88 yards on 18 carries in the second half.

“We’ve got to know how to win and we’ve got to know how to lose,” Etheredge said. “Our kids are doing it the right way, and I’m proud of them. I want them to continue to work hard; what we lack in talent, we’re going to have to make up in heart.

“I love this team. I’m having a lot of fun coaching them. By the end of the year, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

Both teams will hit the road in region play next week. Gardendale travels to Birmingham to face Carver, while Pell City will go to Gadsden to face Southside.