By HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OPELIKA OBSERVER
Following what head coach Jason Gibson describes as the most embarrassing loss to Lee Scott in school history, Friday night presented a clean slate and the opportunity for the Glenwood Gators to break back into the win column against region foe Valliant Cross.
From the very beginning, Friday night’s contest between the Gators and the Warriors was a back-and forth slug fest. After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, VCA fumbled the opening kickoff on its own 26-yard line, opening the door for Glenwood to post early points.
The favorable field position did not prove fruitful for the Orange and Green, however, as Gibson’s team was unable to find any resemblance of an offensive rhythm in the early going and squandered a pair of opportunities in which the squad was handed the ball deep in enemy territory.
The head coach claimed that the first quarter struggles serve as a testament that his team is not where it needs to be yet.
“We are nowhere near where this team needs to be,” Gibson said. “It’s not even in the vicinity of where we can be. We just got a long way to go.”
As the game progressed, the Gators began to figure out what was working best for them: handing the ball to junior running back Aaron Burton. Burton led his team with nine touches for 47 yards in the first half alone, relieving struggling quarterback Dallas Crow of stress in offensive production. Once the junior tailback got rolling, Crow was able to settle in and deliver a 34-yard touchdown strike early in the second quarter.
Gibson attributes much of his team’s offensive success to that of his junior speed back.
“He’s a weapon,” Gibson said. “I’ve got to figure out how to make him, how to get him the ball more.”
On the opposite side of the ball, the Gator defense continued to give the visiting Warriors fits. The Warriors’ inability to hold onto the football in their own territory proved costly late in the second quarter, as a turnover set the Gators up for a 19-yard field goal to take an 11-0 lead as time expired in the first half.
Despite the significant challenge presented by VCA quarterback Antavious Jackson’s mobility, the gator front seven was able to keep the Warriors in front of them, forcing three punts and a fumble before heading to the locker room.
“It was good considering where we’ve been the last two weeks,” Gibson said. “We gave up 500 yards against Escambia, we had a horrific blown assignment against Lee Scott. So we made some adjustments; made some personnel changes, some alignment changes.”
For the hometown Gators, the second half of play brought forth a seemingly completely revamped offense. Despite an apparent injury to Burton on Glenwood’s first snap of the half, senior running back Austin Ondurusek picked up where his teammate left off in the first two periods of play.
“Austin stepped in,” Gibson said. “He did a great job. Austin is such a team player, a team guy and he can play receiver, fullback, tailback. He did it all. He came in and drove us down the field second half.”
Ondurusek’s ability to provide productive touches bolstered the confidence of his quarterback. The Gators marched down the field on their first possession capped off by a 19-yard touchdown off the arm of Crow.
Gibson claims that the decision to start taking downfield shots was based — in large — upon the promise in the run game.
“We ran it pretty good going into the half,” Gibson said. “They’ve got players, so I was just like ‘we’re going to go north and south.’”
Although the impact of Ondurusek was most certainly important to opening up the passing game, his role on the ground also helped his team find paydirt for the second time in the third period of play. On the ensuing drive, the senior received three consecutive touches — tallying north of 25 yards — before hurling himself across the plane, pushing the Gator lead to 26-0 entering the fourth quarter.
After a series of traded possessions heavily packed with inside runs, the Gators wound down the clock in the final quarter before losing the shutout bid to a late touchdown by the Warriors.
Gibson said he was just happy to get the win.
“At the end of the day, it’s a win.” Gibson said. “It was a region game, we needed a win and we got it.”
Following a schedule alteration, Glenwood has just six days to regroup and recharge before traveling to Springwood on Sept. 16. The Gators will now do battle with the winless Wildcats in Lanett on Thursday night with kickoff still set for 7 p.m. CST.