Win a state championship.
After Week 10 became the first loss in the history of the first-year school, the first round of the AHSAA Class 4A playoffs became business as usual. Fifth-ranked Clay Central trounced Jemison, 48-18, to advance to play Charles Henderson, which upset No. 4 Thomasville 39-22.
“We came out with the intention to win no matter what,” Tyrone Cosby said. “I think we needed that loss last week because it showed us if you come into the game with the big head, you’ll end up with a loss.”
After a somewhat sluggish first quarter — by Clay Central standards —resulted in only one Volunteer touchdown, a 32-yard run by Cosby, Jamiro Staples could already feel the tide beginning to shift.
“They came out hitting real hard,” he said. “You could tell it was about to be over by the end of the first quarter.”
And so it was.
Thanks to 27 second-quarter points, the night was squarely under control.
Jamario Lyles hooked up with Staples for a 15-yard score six seconds into the quarter. It was Lyles’ only touchdown in a productive 10-for-15, 137-yard passing night.
Staples, a 6-foot-4 senior, came back and used his height and leaping ability to haul in a 21-yard gain that set up Curtis Hunter’s 1-yard plunge. After Jemison fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive, Travis Smith went in from four yards out to make it 27-0.
Hunter capped a six-play drive with another 1-yard run 33.3 seconds before the half to give the Volunteers a comfortable 34-0 lead. Hunter finished with 11 carries for 67 yards and three scores, the third coming from 21 yards out 30 seconds into the final quarter.
With such a sizeable, sure lead, not even concerning moments in second half could fluster coach Steve Giddens.
“Never worried, not a bit,” Giddens said. “Ticked. But not worried.”
With a 42-yard pass play and a fumble, Jemison broke up the shutout and closed Clay Central’s lead to 34-12 in a mere 21 seconds midway through the third quarter.
To make matters worse, after the Panthers held Clay Central on downs, they unveiled a new never-before-seen offense — not even on PlayStation, said Staples.
“We were confused,” Staples said. “We just kinda got out there and lined up in something.”
Jemison lined up in an empty backfield with one receiver split right, four more left, and one receiver behind a trips wall. They used the screen pass to the back receiver with some success, then took the mismatch with 6-foot-2 Randy Satterfield on 5-9 Devin Gaddis for a 36-yard gain before the Volunteers called timeout to adjust.
“We worked on it,” Giddens said. “I know it didn’t look like it.”
After the timeout, the Volunteers cheated Staples over to the right to aid in the mismatch and effectively shut down the offense, sending Jemison back to only a trips set.
Soon thereafter, new faces began to appear in the Clay Central lineup, and the non-hardcore fans headed for the exits on the chilly night.
“You can do one of two things after a loss,” Giddens said. “You can sit around and pout about it, or you can try to get better.
“I’m glad we decided to take the road of the latter.”
Assistant Managing Editor Bran Strickland: 256-235-3590. On Twitter @Bran_Strickland.