By Chris Yow
CLAY — When it comes to high school football rivalries, I’ve seen my fair share. Walker-Cullman, Scottsboro-North Jackson, The Battle for Murder Creek, Auburn-Opelika, Lineville-Clay County — before the merger — the list goes on.
What I witnessed Friday night during the annual Paws and Claws battle was certainly everything it was built to be and more.
Where I come from, Paws and Claws means something much different. I attended Sumiton Christian, a small, private school in Walker County. Across the highway was Dora High School, now a Class 5A school. We played in every sport, except football. Basketball was the sport chosen when I was in school, and my school is nicknamed Eagles. Dora is home to the Bulldogs. So, naturally, we called the basketball game the “Paws vs. Claws Classic”. It’s now a softball tournament hosted by both schools as well, but I digress.
I saw all the hoopla leading up to the game Friday night. I was even part of the hoopla with Tribune Sports Live and saw the coaches come in with players for a special taping of the show during the week. I didn’t expect the game to live up to the hype.
These two schools were once one. Clay-Chalkville split from Hewitt-Trussville and in 1996, the first game was played — a Clay-Chalkville win.
Tweets saying there would only be a certain number of tickets sold really caught me off guard. A sell-out crowd in a stadium the size of Cougar Stadium? Yeah, right. As the week went on, I downplayed the night in my mind because there wasn’t any way the event would live up.
Not only did the atmosphere live up to the hype, but the game did as well. Undefeated Clay-Chalkville was on the ropes for three quarters. Only their depth and athleticism proved too much for Hewitt-Trussville in the end, but the Huskies were battling from the get-go.
We saw incredible catches, like the first touchdown of the night from Clay quarterback Ty Pigrome to receiver Dez Williams. We saw four touchdowns with less than a minute coming off the clock in the first quarter, including a pair of touchdown runs of more than 75 yards each. We saw a sophomore quarterback thrust into a game against the No. 6-ranked team in the nation, and he held his own for the entire game.
The crowd was loud. The bands were great. Sidelines were intense. This game was big.
The game had the feel of a playoff atmosphere. Despite meaning nothing to the playoff race, both teams were fighting as if their seasons were on the line. Even special teams were playing tough in every aspect.
Walking around Cougar Stadium, there were some empty seats, but those seats could have easily been filled by the people standing along the fence line watching the game. Sure, the stadium could’ve held 200 more fans, but when the game kicked off, there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t cheering or yelling or screaming at some point.
That’s what makes rivalry games work in high school. It’s not just about the schools, but it includes the cities. The townspeople have to make the game something that is a sin to miss.
On another note, however, it’s also the responsibility of the town and the parents to make sure the rivalry stays safe and clean. I’ve also seen a game between Oxford and Anniston where a gunshot was heard during the game, causing players and officials to drop to the ground.
Luckily, nobody was hurt seriously during the “flagging” accident, but keeping our students safe is much more important than any tradition. I don’t want to see this game or any other rivalry game end because of a preventable injury.
This game has the hype, the build up and the emotion to be the best high school football rivalry in Alabama. I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot, and this one is right up there with the best.