By Joshua Huff, sports editor
CLAY — The common theme for teams enjoying a bye this week is that of relief. The two-week gap between games affords teams the time to lick their wounds, scope out the remaining field, harp and smooth out issues and plan accordingly.
This is the case for Clay-Chalkville. The Cougars enter their week six bye following two consecutive losses with each one brutal in its own right. On one hand, you have the Sept. 13 dismantling at the hands of Pinson Valley, 7-31; on the other hand, you have a 35-38 hard-fought loss to Gardendale this past week that ended on a game-winning field goal.
Those two losses not only dashed any hope of Clay-Chalkville blitzing through the season undefeated, obviously, but the losses sent the Cougars to 0-2 in Class 6A Region 6. As a result, the Cougars are now looking toward a second half to the season as one of three teams to currently be left out of the playoffs.
Fortunately, Clay-Chalkville is the best of those three teams (Huffman, Pell City and Shades Valley). The Cougars have a chance to back that statement up as three of the next five games are against those teams mentioned above. Not only does Clay-Chalkville have to win out in region play, but it needs to first defeat Shades Valley next Friday, then hope that Pinson Valley falls to undefeated Gardendale.
The Shades Valley game will more than likely be a make-or-break it type game with both teams clinging to the ropes in the region. The Mounties sit at 2-2, 1-1, but they have historically been on the losing end against Clay-Chalkville. The Cougars hold an all-time series lead of 14-4 and defeated the Mounties 31-6 in 2018.
Expectations for Clay-Chalkville were high coming into this season. After consecutive 11-or-more win seasons, the Cougars are staring down the barrel of their first three-game losing streak since 2016. Behind a plethora of penalties, turnovers and just bad luck, Clay-Chalkville has stumbled following a dominant performance against Dothan to open the season.
The Cougars had to rally against a tough James Clemens team following a handful of turnovers and then needed the sure-footed Jaren Van Winkle to defeat Park Crossing. The offensive stagnation continued as Pinson Valley silenced the Cougars, 31-7, and against Gardendale, the usually reliable Cougar defense succumbed to the passing attack of Will Crowder — The junior threw for 415 yards with three touchdowns on 24-of-36 attempts. His final pass of the game to Kendale Allen set up the game-winning 32-yard field goal.
The Cougars cannot expect the ship to right itself. With a team full of promise and talent, Clay-Chalkville needs to play like a team with its back to the wall. With Gardendale, Oxford and Pinson Valley fighting for the top spot, the Cougars will start chipping away starting with Shades Valley next week.
For now, Clay-Chalkville just needs to sit back and take a deep breath.