By Erik Harris
DECATUR — Challenge accepted.
For the second time in three seasons, Clay-Chalkville head coach Jerry Hood and his Cougars (13-0) are headed to the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.
Hood’s crew got there by beating Decatur (9-4) 38-10 on its own turf Friday night.
[VIDEO: Watch game highlights, post-game interview with head coach Jerry Hood]
The question facing the top-ranked Cougars coming into the quarterfinals was how they would respond after losing their top ball carrier Terelle West in the second round.
That question mark has been removed and replaced with an exclamation point.
“So proud of our kids, we needed a physical fight type game because that’s what we’re gonna get next week,” Hood said.
It all started with a defense that stepped up and forced five Red Raider turnovers, the last of which was a Jalen Dawson scoop and score that finalized the contest.
It ended with an offensive front that completely took the game over in the second half. After holding a 9-0 lead at the break, Clay-Chalkville hit the ground running in the final two quarters.
“I thought the offensive line kind of took over the second half,” Hood said. “When you have that type of thing, you have an opportunity to win big games like this.”
Thirteen of the Cougars’ last 19 snaps were run plays, and the repeated body blows finally broke Decatur. Many of the punches came from senior Art Smith, who helped the visitors churn up 145 rushing yards in the second half. They only had 119 total yards of offense at intermission.
Smith finished the night with 22 rushes for 211 yards and three scores. He rushed in from 1, 15 and 66 yards out (all in the second half).
Clay-Chalkville’s offense limped through the first 24 minutes of play, punting on half of its possessions.
Kicker Patrick Millican drew first blood with a 26-yarder with 8:39 remaining in the second quarter. That was the latest first score the Cougars have seen all season.
Red Raider kicker Fransisco Tirado got involved with a 45-yarder late in the third to make it a 13-point game.
Junior quarterback Tyrell Pigrome scored the first touchdown of the game to give his team a 9-0 advantage with 4:25 remaining in the half. He took a designed quarterback sneak eight yards on third-and-goal.
The righty finished going 7-for-18 through the air for 59 yards, an interception and the rushing touchdown. Pigrome left the game late with what looked like a head injury.
He was replaced by junior Darryien Wilson, who connected with T.J. Simmons for a two-point conversion to make it 31-10 with 3:05 remaining.
Decatur’s lone touchdown came on the legs of Jujuan Lang, who went 12 yards for the score on its second play of the half.
For a spot in the Super 7 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Dec. 5, Clay-Chalkville will host fifth-ranked Florence next Friday night.
“This is a fun team,” Hood said. “This is a wonderful group of kids, they have been through so much that you guys don’t even know and they’re resiliency will take them far in life.”