By Johnny Sanders Jr.
HELENA — Helena brought an eight-game winning streak into the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs on a frigid Friday night against a Clay-Chalkville team that boasted a five-game streak of its own.
Something had to give, and it wasn’t the Cougar defense as Clay-Chalkville shut out the Huskies, 17-0, to advance into the second round.
“The defensive effort was outstanding,” Clay-Chalkville Drew Gilmer said. “We gave up some stuff early in the first half but we were able to come up with big time stops and didn’t let them score.”
The start to the evening proved to be quite uneventful as both squads’ offenses were unable to sustain drives. Clay-Chalkville, however, managed to drive the ball into Helena’s territory in the second quarter, but both drives ended with Damione Ward interceptions.
“We turned the ball over and our defense bailed us out twice,” Gilmer said. “I’m just really proud of them and this gutsy performance out of them.”
In the second half, one theme remained the same: the Clay Chalkville defense continued to suffocate Helena’s offense. The Cougars did not let the Huskies cross the 50-yard line the entire half. That defensive effort afforded the Cougar offense some breathing room, which Ward and the rest of the Cougar offense took advantage of.
Midway though the third quarter, Ward called his own number and put the Cougars up 7-0 following a drive mixed with short passes and tough running from Lazarius Hinkle. On the next drive, Clay would move the ball with ease until the drive stalled out inside the red zone and with 1:26 to go in the period. Jaren Van Winkle would miss on a 30-yard field goal attempt. Hinkle had 71 total yards on the night. He rushed for 65 of those yards in the second half.
“We just weren’t able to get anything going (on offense) in the first half,” Gilmer said. “We’d have a big play and we’d get a penalty. So we just played behind the sticks the whole first half and in the second half we were able to establish the run on first down a little bit, which just set us up for better plays on second and third down and we were able to put some points on the board.”
After the Cougar defense held Helena to yet another punt in the fourth quarter, the Cougar offense moved the ball once again, advancing to the 20-yard line. On first and 10, Ward threw the ball to Jaden Johnson for what appeared to be a touchdown, but the refs called him out of bounds at the 4. Ward then followed with a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Huskies up 14-0. Stellar defense once again caused Helena to give Clay-Chalkville the ball back and Ward and the offense drove the ball down the field again, this time capping the drive off with Van Winkle 30-yard field goal to end the night.
Helena managed just 105 yards rushing in the game. Helena recorded four consecutive three-and-outs in the second half.
Clay-Chalkville recorded 249 total yards of offense. Ward accounted for 143 total offensive yards in the second half alone.
The Cougars will next host Athens in the second round.