By Erik Harris
CLAY — This game, not unlike most football games, was won at the line of scrimmage. What made this contest special was the reward given to the winner — a spot in the Class 6A state championship game Friday night in Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
No. 1 Clay-Chalkville made fifth-ranked Florence its 14th victim of the season much like the 13 opponents that came before it: by devastating the Falcons on the offensive and defensive fronts to take the game 35-21.
“I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage,” Clay-Chalkville head coach Jerry Hood said. “Our defensive line played well and our offensive line blocked them and that’s what it is. If your lines control the game, you win the game.”
With the game locked at 7-all to start the third quarter, Hood had his offense do what it does best, which is run, run, run the football to open up passing lanes.
Junior quarterback Tyrell Pigrome played arguably his best game on the season’s biggest stage, and used both his arm and legs to do it.
The righty quarterbacked the offense to 28 second-half points against the best defense the Cougars have seen thus far. Pigrome completed six of his seven third-down attempts, three of them going for touchdowns.
“The wide receivers were getting open, that’s all it was,” Pigrome said. “They made it happen.”
Those opportunities came thanks to an offensive front that gave the junior time in the pocket while also giving senior running back Art Smith enough push to do some damage. Smith went for 143 yards on 22 rushes.
Pigrome rushed for 53 yards and a pair of scores, while going 13-of-15 through the air for 160 yards and the three touchdowns.
Clay-Chalkville’s defense forced the visitors into several third down situations, allowing them to convert 46 percent of the time.
Defensive linemen LaDarius Harris, Kendell Jones, Nick McDaniel and Jordan Sharbutt held strong on first and second downs all night, which put Falcons quarterback Blake Hawkins in several third and long situations late.
Hawkins was more than a handful for Hood’s defense. His deceptive speed and big arm made him a tough out, but the pressure provided by Jones and Co. won out in the end. The Cougars recorded seven tackles for loss on the night, which helped contribute to Florence’s 7.1 yards-to-go average on third downs.
“We played outstanding defense, that team was averaging about 900 points a game,” Hood said. “I’m proud of them.”
The visitors moved the chains 13 times. Clay-Chalkville did so 22 times.
The Cougars are set to face No. 3 Saraland on Friday night in Auburn for the hardware.