By Britney Barber, For the Tribune
CLAY – The Cougars (11-0) took on Mountain Brook (8-4) for round two of the AHSAA playoffs at home in Cougar Stadium Friday night. A defensive showdown from the start, Clay came out on top to advance in the playoffs with a 17-13 final.
Cougar wide receiver Mario Craver put the first points on the board early in the first quarter with a 15-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead after the PAT from Antone Ellison. The Spartan defense held the Cougars to a field goal on their next attempt at the end zone, Ellison delivered with a 30-yarder.
The Spartans answered in the second quarter on a drive that almost ended with an interception, but gravity prevailed. Spartan quarterback John Cooper scurried for a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the Cougar lead to 3. A missed field goal attempt by the Cougars late in the second quarter stalled the score at 10-7 going into the half.
The second half was filled with a slew of three-and-outs for both teams. The Spartans answered the call with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter. Running back Cole Gamble slid through Cougar defenders on a 3-yard slip into the endzone to take back the lead. The extra point was blocked, but the Spartans were on top of the Cougars 13-10.
Jaylen Mbakwe finally got his time to shine in the fourth quarter with a 27-yard touchdown run to put the Cougars back on top. Ellison added on the PAT for the 17-13 lead. The Clay defense halted Mountain Brook late in the fourth, forcing a turnover on downs inside the Cougar 20-yard line. In true playoff fashion, the Spartans picked off Mbakwe with two minutes left in the ballgame, in Cougar territory.
The Spartans would come up one yard shy on a 4th down conversion with 14 seconds left in the game, advancing the Cougars to the third round. Cougar Head Coach Drew Gilmer on the win, “Proud of our guys for battling right there. But again, it wasn’t pretty but we’ll take it.”
The Cougars will travel to take on Muscle Shoals next Friday.