By Gary Lloyd
CLAY — The road to a state championship is now paved.
No. 1 Clay-Chalkville will travel south to Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday, Dec. 5 to take on Saraland (13-1) for the Class 6A state championship. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
The Cougars (14-0) got there because they defeated Florence 35-21 on Friday night at Cougar Stadium. Saraland moves on after defeating Spanish Fort 14-10 in the semifinals.
“It feels great,” said Clay-Chalkville junior wide receiver T.J. Simmons, who caught six passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. “I’ve always wanted to go to a state championship, and I’ve got a chance to do that.”
The game started slow for Clay-Chalkville, but as has been customary, the Cougars finished strong. Junior quarterback Tyrell Pigrome started just 1-of-3, but completed his final 12 passes to finish 13-of-15 for 160 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 14 times for 53 yards and two scores.
Sophomore Nico Collins fumbled the game’s opening kickoff, allowing Florence (11-3) to take over in Clay-Chalkville territory. The ensuing drive stalled.
The first score came when Florence’s Roland Adams capped a 12-play, 82-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge early in the second quarter. The Cougars responded three minutes later when Pigrome hit Collins across the middle for a 7-yard TD. The game went to halftime knotted at 7.
Clay-Chalkville scored on its first drive of the third quarter when Pigrome hit Simmons for an 11-yard TD. Florence answered with a 24-yard field goal off the right foot of Casarrubias Edson with 4:10 to play in the third. Pigrome then found Collins again for a 35-yard bomb in the corner of the end zone to push the lead to 21-10 late in the third.
A 54-yard return by the Falcons enabled them to punch in a 3-yard TD run by Erroll Thompson with :59 remaining in the third quarter. Adams scampered in from two yards out for the two-point conversion, making it a 21-18 game.
Pigrome bolted eight yards up the middle four plays later to give Clay-Chalkville a 10-point advantage with 11:42 to play. Edson booted a 32-yard field goal to cut it to 28-21 with 6:22 to play, but Pigrome scored from four yards out with 3:24 left to ice the game.
For Clay-Chalkville, Collins caught three passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Art Smith ran hard for the second straight week, gaining 143 yards on 22 carries.
Senior safety Torrence Willis said last year’s second round 37-30 loss to Florence “hurt us real deep.”
“It means so much to us because we’ve been working so hard,” he said.
What does it mean to Clay-Chalkville head coach Jerry Hood?
“It means we get to practice one more Monday,” he said. “That’s what really matters to us.”
Willis said the Cougars will be “real focused, real tight” this week leading up to the Class 6A state championship game. Hood said this is a hard-working team that has overcome a lot. He said the reasons this team will travel to Auburn is because there’s no drama in the locker room, and players are focused on football and being good people.
“When you have that, you can accomplish miracles,” Hood said.
Contact Gary Lloyd at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.