Unable to put points on the scoreboard for three quarters, Charles Henderson (9-3) used a six-play swing to score all of its points and advance to the third round, 13-0.
“When you’re playing a good team, and Charles Henderson is a good team, you get one or two chances,” Clay Central coach Steve Giddens said. “If you don’t take advantage of them, they’re gone. When they got a chance they stuck it in there and scored.”
Entering the fourth quarter scoreless, Clay Central tailback Tyrone Cosby picked up a first down on the 29-yard line for the Volunteers (10-2) to get things going. From there, everything collapsed.
The ensuing play was a double reverse. The second handoff, to wideout Jamari Staples, wasn’t fully executed. Staples never gained full possession and fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Courtney Hooten of Charles Henderson.
“Huge,” Trojans coach Mike Dean said. “We told our kids at halftime if we could get up seven and get 14, it would favor us. You’re still scared to death, though. With the athletes Central’s got and the quarterback and you look over at (Jamari Staples), it scared you to death because they’re one play away.”
A penalty and a play later, quarterback Austin Ingram hit Josh Noel for the score from 27 yards out.
Down a touchdown, Clay Central fumbled psychologically and again literally. On the first play of the ensuing drive, quarterback Jamario Lyles’ toss missed Cosby. Charles Henderson’s Quay Mays recovered it on the 6-yard line.
“Their pressure is what hurt us all night long,” Giddens said. “They were bringing more than we could block. The times we had a chance to make plays we just didn’t.”
Tailback Courtney Downing gave the Trojans a 13-0 lead two plays later out of the wildcat. The sophomore finished with 103 yards on 32 carries on the night along with that 2-yard score.
“We’re playing good football right now,” Dean said. “We told our kids Central hasn’t been in too many fourth-quarter football games. We told our kids if we could get them in the fourth quarter we had a chance.”
Although the two fumbles in the fourth quarter ultimately led to the points that sent Clay Central home with a season-ending loss, opportunities were missed the entire game.
The Volunteers opened the contest with a 12-play drive, traveling down to the 15-yard line. But it ended with Lyles throwing an interception.
Midway through the second quarter, Cosby overthrew Staples by 10 yards on a halfback pass.
“That was a missed opportunity,” Giddens repeated. “You can’t overthrow him by 40 yards.”
On the same drive, an intentional grounding call on Lyles pushed the Volunteers back from the 9-yard line to the 24. The drive ended with a missed 38-yard field goal.
As for Charles Henderson, it has found a way to defeat its second top-5 team in as many weeks after defeating No. 4 Thomasville, 39-22, in the opening round.
“Who’s playing the best football in November?,” Dean questioned. “I think that’s why the playoffs are so special. I think that’s why college football is making a push for it. The last couple Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants were 9-7 and the Green Bay Packers were 10-6 a couple of years ago and the wildcard. Who’s playing the best football? It doesn’t matter if you’re a two or four in the state.”
Lyles finished the game 11-for-19 passing with 104 yards and an interception. Tailback Curtis Hunter led the Volunteers in rushing, recording 70 yards on 13 carries. Staples racked up 48 yards on four receptions.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.