By Erik Harris
CLAY — What’s the loss of senior running back Terelle West mean for Clay-Chalkville?
It was third-and-10 from its own 3-yard line when Clay-Chalkville junior quarterback Tyrell Pigrome got under center, clinging to a six-point lead on the road. For perhaps the most crucial play call of the season, offensive coordinator Stuart Floyd looked to his play sheet and kept it simple.
The result silenced the home side of the Driver Stadium crowd and cued the “Well, at least we scared the best team in the state for a minute” conversations for the next couple hours.
Floyd didn’t choose to three-step drop his strong-armed quarterback or exploit his two explosive wideouts for the defining moment. He put West’s feet, the same feet that have gone for the all-time rushing record at Clay-Chalkville High School, in the north end zone, tossed it left and watched the senior march 97 yards south through the Gardendale defense.
That’s the way it was. That’s how the top-ranked Cougars have handled their few — truly — threatening snaps of the season. When in doubt, put the ball in the hands of West behind a killer offensive line and let him strike up the band.
But, as of approximately 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 14, that particular play call has been permanently removed from Floyd’s sheet. On the second drive of Clay-Chalkville’s Class 6A playoff win over Muscle Shoals on Friday, the senior made the very cutback that makes him so special.
Only this time, instead of bouncing back up to get the call from the sideline, he stayed on the turf with what was later confirmed a torn ACL and MCL, according to head coach Jerry Hood. It was a 27-yard run, the last of his high school career.
“Terelle is a fighter and will attack his rehab the way he attacks life,” Hood said in a text message. “A winner.”
Pigrome responded with one of his best throws of the season — a 39-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Simmons — on the very next play to give the Cougars a 14-0 lead early.
After that, the loss of their offensive staple became evident. Their first drive without West in the backfield ended on a three-and-out followed by a punt on the ensuing drive. The offensive front was the same. The holes were what they’ve always been; the ball carrier was not.
“It kind of (slowed us) but it kind of didn’t, because we still have Art (Smith) and Brandon Berry back there,” Pigrome said.
Clay-Chalkville won the game for a spot in the quarterfinals at Decatur (9-3) this Friday, but scored a season-low 35 points.
It will take more than one back to replace West. Smith and Berry took the majority of the reps after the injury. Both of them, along with junior A.J. Walker, will be needed to keep things rolling.
Does this mean the Cougars’ quest for their second state title is over? No, Hood still boasts a roster full of college prospects.
Smith is a senior who’s shown flashes all season. He has rushed the ball 46 times for 416 yards (nine yards per carry) and six scores in 2014.
The loss of West simply means that Hood will have to find another way. Pigrome will have to make more throws. Simmons and sophomore Nico Collins should see their targets increase as the two of them have the ability to take a game over through the air.
The loss hurts bad, but all is not lost for the 2014 Cougars. Just ask Spanish Fort, which lost its starting quarterback in September, but remains in the playoff hunt.
Gary Lloyd contributed to this story.