Birmingham, Ala.--What looked to be a battle of heavyweights coming in turned out to be a laugher as Pike County took advantage of nine Clay County turnovers to rout the Panthers 44-14 on the way to the Bulldogs' fifth state championship overall and third in the last four years. Quarterback Tobias Lee threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns and receiver Kevin Marshall caught six passes for a record 158 yards and two scores as the Bulldogs won the turnover battle and bragging rights Friday afternoon at Legion Field.
This season Clay County has been a juggernaut since moving up from 2A to 3A. It took nine games into the regular season before the Panthers gave up a total of 44 points. Friday it was done in 48 minutes thanks to a Super Six record nine turnovers that contributed directly to 37 Pike County points.
For two of the most successful Super Six teams in history, Friday's game was as ugly as it could possibly be with 10 turnovers between the two teams. The first half was especially brutal to watch if you were wearing the blue and white of Clay County. A team that rarely makes mistakes, the Panthers committed five first half turnovers that contributed directly to all 17 Pike County points but it was the Panthers that took advantage first in the turnover game.
Pike County strips Clay County's Ross Cotney on a key play in the second quarter.
Following the first Lanell Wilson fumble of the day, the Clay County senior got some revenge when he picked off a Lee pass on his own 35-yard line and returned it 14 yards to near midfield. It took the Panthers just one play to get on the scoreboard as junior quarterback Chase Horn hit Quamain Simmons for a 51-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-0. That would be all of the good news for Coach Danny Horn's team though as the rest of the half was filled with mistakes and Pike County scoring.
After holding Pike County on defense Clay County got the ball back on its own 29-yard line and again it was the first play that proved to be huge. Running the option, Horn attempted to pitch the ball to Wilson but it was high and hit the Legion Field turf. The ball was recovered by the Bulldogs' Darrel Reynolds and one play later James Jackson scored from 29 yards out to tie the game at seven.
Turnovers again plagued Clay County as a promising drive into Bulldog territory ended with a fumble in the second quarter and set up Pike County for the go-ahead score. Starting at its own 28 Clay County got five yards on first down before an incompletion on second down set up a third and five. Horn hit fullback Ross Cotney in the middle and he rumbled into Pike County territory. Hit from the side Cotney fumbled and the ball was recovered by Jonta Carlton at his own 39.
That turnover began a nine-play drive for Pike County that pushed the ball to the Clay County 46 where they faced a third and 17. Dropping back to pass, Lee threw towards Jackson but Horn was waiting from his free safety position. Batting the ball in the air, Horn's defense only served to bat the ball right into the waiting arms of Jackson who raced in for the touchdown to give Pike County the 14-7 lead.
Unfortunately for Clay County the turnovers weren't done on this day as the Panthers drove from their own 20 to the 46-yard line where they faced a third and nine. Looking left Horn threw right into the waiting hands of Carlton for Pike County. He raced down the sidelines for an apparent touchdown but a holding call brought the ball back to the 24-yard line. Pike County would eventually settle for a 26-yard field goal by Reynolds to push the lead to 17-7. A desperation drive by Clay County at the end of half ended when Win Knight's field goal from 45 yards out was wide left on the last play.
5-8, 182 junior Darrell Reynolds is an explosive player that will be a top prospect next season in Alabama.
The third quarter started out just as bad for Clay County as another Wilson fumble stopped the first drive. After holding Pike County on defense the Panthers got the ball back but could only muster one first down before punting back to the Bulldogs. Horn executed that part of the game perfectly as his 49-yard punt stopped at the Pike County six-yard line. It proved to be a very little problem for the Bulldogs.
Starting the drive inside their own 10, the Bulldogs drove the length of the field in just eight plays taking 3:42 off the clock. The touchdown came on a 40-yard pass from Lee to Marshall. The throw gave Pike County a commanding 23-7 lead and surpassed the total for the most points Clay County has given up to a 3A school this season.
Clay County answered back thanks to the arm of Horn. Starting the drive at its own 37, Clay County pushed the ball into Bulldog territory with the big play coming from Horn to Quamain Simmons for 29-yards down to the Pike County 17-yard line. On the last play of the third quarter Horn hit Josh Simmons for the touchdown to cut the lead back to nine at 23-14. Getting some of the momentum back, Clay County could only watch as the Bulldogs put the game away thanks to the big play tandem of Lee and Marshall.
Taking over with a fresh fourth quarter to work with Pike County took just three plays to put the game out of reach. Two runs netted just one yard for the Bulldogs before Lee dropped back and hit an open Marshall down the middle. Outrunning one defender before eluding Horn at the goal line, Marshall scored his second touchdown and established the 3A Super Six record for receiving yards in a game. The score put Pike County up 29-14 and Lee's two-point conversion pushed the lead to 17 with just 10:20 left in the game.
Reynolds would add another score for the Bulldogs following yet another Clay County fumble to make the score 38-14 and that wasn't the end of a miserable day for the Panthers. Trying to get back in the game with just under three minutes left Horn threw into the right flats and Jackson stepped in front of the pass and returned it for a touchdown to put a fitting end on an ugly performance by Clay County.
Reynolds led the way on the ground for Pike County with 98 yards and a touchdown while Jackson added 35 yards and a score. Wilson rushed for 125 yards for Clay County as the Panthers actually out gained Pike County 353 to 350 for the game. Quamain Simmons added 131 receiving yards for Clay County.