By David Knox, Sports Editor
CLAY – Clay-Chalkville takes on yet another Top 10 opponent, this time outside Class 6A, Region 6, when it travels to Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl to face Park Crossing.
The Cougars, who will be in the Class 6A playoffs regardless of Friday’s outcome, are coming off a 54-28 loss to then-fifth-ranked Minor, the region champion. Park Crossing (8-1), the Region 2 champion, was ranked No. 7 entering last week. The Thunderbirds, in just their third season of football, have won two region titles in a row now, beating Sidney Lanier 13-10 last week to lock up title No. 2.
Kicker Jake Lane nailed a 49-yard field goal as time expired for the win. He kicked a 50-yarder to end the first half.
The T-birds were 8-3 last season, losing in their first playoff game 28-24 to Bessemer City. Their only loss this season was to Robert E. Lee, 51-44 in the second week of the season.
All-time, the T-birds are an impressive 23-7 under coach Smitty Grider.
Park Crossing is a Montgomery City School that opened in the fall of 2013 with grades 9 and 10 only. Grade 11 was added in 2014 and grade 12 was added last year.
The Thunderbirds have a win over Class 7A Gadsden City to their credit and have posted three shutouts and allowed 7 points or less two other times, so they should pose a challenge to the Cougars.
Clay-Chalkville quarterback Willie Miller suffered an injury early in the game against Minor and his availability is uncertain at press time. Senior Tyrese Sewell played well as his replacement against the Tigers, his most extensive playing time of the year.
“He played so much tonight he cramped up,” coach Jerry Hood said after the game. “We’ve got to get him in shape, depending on Willie’s condition. Got a lot of plays in, ran around a lot. You could see he was a little hesitant on the reads and throwing the ball, but he did OK.”
For the season, Sewell is 10-of-19 for 178 yards and three touchdowns and rushed eight times for 21 yards. He threw two touchdown passes to Nico Collins and a Hail Mary to Terrill Cole at the end of the first half.
Leading rusher Quentin Young looked like his old self early against Minor with some explosive carries but left the game still bothered by an ankle. He has 630 yards rushing on 84 carries, a 7.4 yards-per-carry average, and seven touchdowns, but can’t stay on the field. Nic Jones has 523 on 84 tries for 6.2 ypc and five TDs.
Collins leads the receivers with 41 catches for 834 yards and nine touchdowns.
Miller, the sophomore who has started every game at quarterback so far this season, is 123-of-204 passing for 1,684 yards and 18 TDs with three interceptions. He’s added 150 yards rushing and two TDs.
Hood said the Cougars are resilient and he expects a good effort again. He said he’ll tell them what he told them last week.
“We’re in the playoffs, nothing’s going to change about our preparation,” Hood said. “I’d love for us to get healthy. And we’re going to compete as hard as we can against another great team. And we’re going to compete against great teams in the playoffs.
“I told them this is an opportunity to learn every single play, whether you’re ahead or behind or whatever. There’s no quit in the kids, there’s no in-fighting, the kids are great kids.”
Park Crossing is powered by its defense – the T-birds have allowed just 108 points in nine games — and star quarterback Malik Cunningham, a threat running and throwing the ball.
It may be irrelevant, but it’s worth noting that Park Crossing has beaten just one team with a winning record this season, the three-point decision over Sidney Lanier (5-3), which played without its starting quarterback in the second half. The Poets were the only other team in the region to have a winning record, and the Thunderbirds lost to the only other team on their schedule with a winning record, Lee. Their most impressive win was a 28-14 victory at 7A Gadsden City.
This will also be their fourth straight game at Cramton Bowl, and their seventh there this season.