Clay County coach Kris Herron challenged his Panthers (7-3) to finish the regular season on a positive note and take some momentum into their playoff game at Hale County of Moundville next Friday. They responded with a 28-9 win over the Saks Wildcats (4-5).
“It’s good to go in with a win,” Herron said afterward. “These guys bounced back (from three midseason losses), responded well, won five in a row and got a little confidence back. We still can get better but I’m very proud of them for finishing the season on a five-game winning streak going into the playoffs.”
Saks won the toss and chose to take the ball. Brandon Johnson’s 93-yard kickoff return for an apparent touchdown was negated by a block in the back. The Wildcats then scored by moving 87 yards in eight plays, capped when Johnson took a pitch into the end zone from 40 yards out. Josh Wilson’s kick made it 7-0 with 7:24 left in the first quarter. The rest of the half belonged to Clay County.
The first of two big-play touchdowns by Lamar Jones got Clay County going less than two minutes later. On a third-and-6, Jones scored on a 68-yard toss sweep, clearing the line then using his sprinter’s speed to run away from defenders. Shawncey Simmons, perfect on four extra point attempts, knotted the score at 7-all.
Late in the first, the Panthers’ Jamari Staples returned an interception near midfield to the Saks 21-yard line. On fourth down, Simmons hit Staples on a slant for an 18-yard touchdown with 11:21 to play in the second quarter.
Trailing 14-7, Saks picked up two quick first downs then stalled. Chase Johnson, who averaged 41 yards on five punts, boomed a 47-yarder and Corpio Dennard downed the ball inside the Clay County 1-yard line. The Panthers answered with a methodical 16-play drive that lasted almost nine minutes. On fourth-and-5 from the Saks 10, the Panthers spread receivers left and right and Simmons ran a keeper up the middle for a 21-7 lead with 18.4 seconds left in the half.
Saks drove to the Clay County15 late in the third quarter but lost the ball on downs. Simmons lost his footing and slipped in the end zone for a safety with 11:49 to play. Thirty yards in penalties sent Saks in the wrong direction after the free kick and the Wildcats punted again.
Three plays later, Simmons completed a short pass in the right flat to Jones who eluded three tacklers then raced to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.
“I felt like our kids came out and played extremely hard tonight. I thought our seniors played extremely hard in their last game,” said Saks coach Clint Smith. “We’ve got a lot we can build on for next year.”
Glenn Ackles ran 11 times for 95 yards to lead Clay County. For Saks, Justin Grier caught four passes for 66 yards.