by Gary Lloyd
MOUNTAIN BROOK — As the Mountain Brook football players barged through the banner prior to kickoff Friday night, several players became stuck behind its top bar, which had leaned down to the turf.
As it turned out, that was about the only thing that slowed the Spartans in their season opener against Gulf Shores. Mountain Brook scored on eight of its 12 possessions and rolled up 483 total yards of offense as it won, 56-24.
“I thought it was a great first game to grow,” said Mountain Brook head coach Chris Yeager. “It was the perfect first game to me because the game was hanging in the balance. They made us fight for that win. We had to go fight for it. That’s exactly what you want.”
Running back Harold Joiner put on a show to kick off his senior season. He scored on runs of 19, 10, 6 and 33 yards and finished with 195 yards on 13 carries. He sat out much of the second half. Joiner, a highly recruited running back, isn’t fazed by the whirlwind surrounding which university he will choose to commit to.
“Honestly, I just block that stuff out and try to focus and be the best at what I’m doing in the moment,” Joiner said.
Mountain Brook (1-0) was in a fight for the first half, holding a 35-21 lead at halftime.
“Coach came in and told us we have to focus on what we can control, and he was telling us we can keep scoring, and that’s what we did and our defense tightened up,” Joiner said.
The talk worked. After allowing 281 total yards to Gulf Shores (0-1) in the first half — 201 passing — the Spartans’ defense, which lost eight starters from last season, hunkered down in the second half, allowing a total of 64 yards. Baynes Autrey recovered a fumble in the second half.
“I like how the game progressed. Our kids on defense grew,” Yeager said. “That means a lot.”
It may have seemed like a sluggish start for Mountain Brook, but Yeager credited first-year Gulf Shores head coach Matt Blake. This was not the Gulf Shores team that posted an 0-10 record last season, including a 56-6 home loss to Mountain Brook.
After Mountain Brook senior quarterback Hamp Sisson’s first pass attempt of the game was intercepted, Gulf Shores took a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass. Joiner answered four plays later with a 19-yard touchdown run, during which he juked a defender and dove for the pylon from four yards out.
“That was my first time diving for the pylon, actually,” Joiner said.
Joiner added a 10-yard score early in the second quarter. The lead was pushed to 21-7 when Sisson found a wide open Tye Pouncey for a 39-yard score with 8:35 left until halftime. Gulf Shores responded when Cody Daniels rushed 14 yards for a touchdown. Joiner again answered, scoring from 6 yards out for his third touchdown of the first half.
Gulf Shores responded with a three-play, 64-yard drive, capped by a 17-yard throw and catch from Rett Files to Thor Tobiassen. Sisson stretched the lead to 35-21 with a minute left until halftime on an 8-yard run.
Joiner scored on a 33-yard run on Mountain Brook’s first drive of the third quarter, and his night was done after that. AJ Gates’ first touch of the season went for a 25-yard touchdown to put Mountain Brook up 49-21, and Walker McCraney scored from 9 yards out halfway through the third quarter for the Spartans’ final points. Gulf Shores added a 35-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to make it 56-24.
Yeager said it’s hard to know a team’s identity until it faces adversity. The Spartans faced some after its first offensive play of the season, an interception returned to the 1-yard line.
“But they fought hard,” he said.
Sisson finished 10 of 14 for 167 yards through the air. He threw a touchdown pass and rushed for one. Wilson Higgins caught five passes for 95 yards. Many younger players were able to play for Mountain Brook in the second half.
“We got to play some young kids and hopefully build a little depth,” Yeager said.
The Spartans travel to Helena next Friday.
“You improve more from the first game to the second game the whole year long,” Yeager said. “As the game went on, I felt good about the team getting better. So we’re going to have to do that. We’re going to have to continue to get better.”