By David Knox
The second-ranked Class 6A team in the state was in trouble. Clay-Chalkville had romped up and down the field on Region 7 foe Oxford, but had little to show for it – a turnover on downs inside the 1 and a fumble at the goal line – and the Yellow Jackets’ star running back, Auburn University commitment Racean “Roc” Thomas, was hungrily gulping up chunks of yardage in an effort to avenge last season’s loss. The Jackets held an early 14-0 lead, and it looked like this might be a sad night for the homestanding Cougars.
When Thomas’ 25-yard scoring run pushed the lead to 27-14 with 2:13 left in the third quarter, it looked grim for the home team.
But, as Cougars quarterback Hayden Moore said after the game, big players make big plays. And he made his share, and star wide receiver/kick returner Brian Clark and running back Sidney Battle made huge plays of their own as Clay-Chalkville piled up 23 fourth-quarter points to grab a 37-27 win at Cougar Field in Clay on Friday night.
Clark’s 66-yard punt return for a score, and Patrick Millican’s extra point, with 7:36 left gave the Cougars their first lead. The defense rose up to force a safety, and then Battle sealed the win with his second score of the night, a 63-yard sprint, to crush the Yellow Jackets’ hopes and seal the win.
“That punt return was what killed us,” said Oxford coach Ryan Herring, still looking for his first win at his alma mater.
Thomas rolled up 143 yards in the first quarter Friday. But after tweaking his ankle around the eight-minute mark of the second quarter he became largely ineffective.
“We really didn‘t do anything different,” said Cougars coach Jerry Hood. “I think we tackled better. Roc was hurt and we knew they’d go to their short passing game. We’ve got a lot to work on. A long way to go. But we needed this. I told our team after our pregame meal that you cannot make a sword unless it has been in fire,” he said. “We need to be in fire. We’ve had too many games where you don’t have to play around here — play two quarters and come out.
“The second thing is we have been believing what (the media) are saying about us,” Hood said. “In reality, we watch practice tape every day and know we’ve got a lot of corrections to make. This is exactly what we need.”
Clark had been shaken up on a failed pass in the end zone moments before his game-changing return shifted the momentum. “It was actually a ‘safe’ call. There wasn’t really a return set up but guys made some great blocks for me.
“We never quit.”
Said Moore, “(The comeback) says a lot about our team. But we were behind a lot last year. We believe we’re a second-half team. We didn’t panic.”