By Britney Bailey, For the Tribune
TUSCALOOSA – The Clay-Chalkville Cougars hit the road to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the AHSAA Super 7 6A State Championship game to face the Saraland Spartans Friday night. The Spartans entered the game undefeated, on a 20-game winning streak, and the reigning state champions. The Cougars, also undefeated, looked to reclaim the state title since taking home the trophy in 2021 and an early exit from the playoffs in 2022.
The Cougars were held to a punt on their first possession. Saraland took advantage with a 63-yard touchdown pass from Texas-commit quarterback KJ Lacey to wide receiver Ryan Williams on their first play of the drive. Alabama-commit Jaylen Mbawke and the Cougars would respond quickly with Mbakwe breaking through Spartan defenders for a 12-yard touchdown run. Antone Ellison added the finishing touch with the PAT.
Saraland answered with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Lacey to Alabama-commit Williams with just 2:20 to go in the first quarter giving Saraland a 14-7 lead.
Mbakwe added another touchdown to his stat sheet early on in the second quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run to tie up the ballgame 14-14. The remainder of the second quarter was a defensive stalemate until the last two minutes, with Saraland’s Williams squeaking in for a 2-yard touchdown run to take the lead once more. Mbakwe responded with :40 to go in the half, launching a 40-yard pass to Mario Craver for a touchdown. The Cougars and Spartans would head to the locker room tied up at 21-21.
Saraland’s Williams kicked off the second half with an 84-yard kickoff return to take back the lead for the Spartans. The Cougars were stalled out on their next possession, ending in a stripped ball by the Spartans. The Cougar defense returned the favor and held the Spartans to a failed field goal attempt.
A holding call spoiled a Jaylen Mbakwe 77-yard touchdown for the Cougars, but Mbakwe ended the third in Mbakwe fashion, with an 18-yard touchdown run to tie it back up 28-28. Part two of the defensive showdown accounted for most of the fourth quarter. The Cougars would land a field goal late in the fourth, to take a 31-28 lead with under two minutes remaining in the ballgame.
The Spartans called a timeout with five seconds left in the game and the ball at the ten-yard line. Everyone in the stadium thought they were going to line up for a field goal, but the offense trotted back out onto the field for the fourth down play. KJ Lacey called his own number and DJ Barber found him at the two-yard line and stopped him two yards shy with the clock winding down to take the championship victory back home to Clay-Chalkville.
Jaylen Mbakwe was named the MVP of the contest.
“They’ve done it all year,” Cougar Head Coach Drew Gilmer says of his now title winning defense, “They don’t panic. They don’t point fingers. They’ve done it game after game all year and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
The Cougars finish the season 14-0 winning their second state championship in three years. Saraland finishes 13-1.