CLAY — If these two teams looked in a mirror, they’d see themselves.
Then they’d crack it.
Clay-Chalkville’s Cougars have posted a school-record five shutouts, two of them in the first two rounds of the Class 6A state playoffs, plus two games of allowing 7 points or less.
Oxford’s Yellow Jackets have posted four shutouts, plus six games of allowing 7 points or less.
The Cougars are allowing 11.5 points per game, the Jackets 5.7.
The offenses are comparable in output, Clay scoring 33.3 per game and Oxford 33.9.
Clay might have the advantage in toughness of schedule — the Cougars faced Park Crossing, Pinson Valley and Homewood — but Oxford offset a couple of easy wins with victories over Gadsden City, Hillcrest and Muscles Shoals 34-7 last week in the second round.
Coach Ryan Herring’s Jackets rely on the running of Tyetus Smith-Lindsey and running and passing of quarterback Abe Peoples. Little Richard Cantrell (5-foot-6, 135 pounds) will get some calls, and big Gabe Webb (6-1, 235) is a load to bring down. They operate behind a big offensive line led by Gabe’s “little” brother — Clay Webb, who is 6-3, 297 pounds and only the state’s top junior prospect. He holds offers from Alabama, Auburn and everybody else.
Clay-Chalkville’s task in handing the Jackets their first loss is to shut down the running game first. The Cougars have been tough to run against, filling the gaps and flying to the ball. But this may be the toughest challenge they’ve faced since Park Crossing.
Running the ball and staying ahead of the chains will again be the philosophy. Quentin Young and Curtis Blakley and Company will try to do that, and Clay will mix in Willie Miller’s passing and running. Miller passed for scores to Rod McCloud and Logan Pruett and ran for another against Homewood last week. Moving the chains kept the defense fresh, and they locked the Patriots down to 67 yards of offense.
The Cougars have been successful doing that, and that will be the Cougars’ No. 1 mission Friday night. Cougars coach Drew Miller decided early that ball-control and ball-security would be the cornerstones for his offense, and they’ve managed to put a lot of points on the board with that. On defense, they’ll key on Smith-Lindsey and stay disciplined in containment against Peoples when the pass play breaks down — agile quarterbacks like Peoples have given them trouble at times.
The Cougars have won three straight in the series on the field — 37-27 in 2013, 25-16 in 2012 and 30-21 in 2011 (later forfeited). Overall, they hold an 8-4 mark against the Yellow Jackets.
But there’s no question this is Herring’s best team in his five seasons. It is likely the best since John Grass’ 2011 team that lost to Hoover in the 6A semifinals (but we’re not going to talk about 2011, any more, Cougars, promise). No disrespect meant to any of Grass’ or Josh Niblett’s Yellow Jacket squads, this could be as good of a team as Bob Herring, father of the current coach, coached to state titles in the 1990s. It’s certainly more of that style — hard running and solid defense — than we see these days.
Except when they look across the line, into the mirror, at these Cougars.
Oxford (12-0) at Clay-Chalkville (10-2), Friday, 7 p.m, Jerry Hood Field at Cougar Stadium (capacity approximately 6,500)
Tribune’s prediction: Clay-Chalkville 14, Oxford 7
Last week: 3-0
Season’s record: 47-7 (87%)