Saturday, November 12, 2011

Clay County 35 - Bayside Academy 21

By Steve Haslam

After a convincing win against Luverne in the first round of the playoffs, the Clay County Panthers made the trek four hours across the state to Daphne, Alabama, to face the undefeated Admirals of Bayside Academy. It would be the Navy Blue versus the Royal Blue in a clash just beyond the tides of Mobile Bay. The Academy’s football stadium was a beautiful backdrop for high school football: a soft black track surrounding a perfectly kept field of grass; stands just big enough to hold both crowds; an overall idyllic setting that had been carved into a hillside, with Spanish Moss hovering over the edges, and a cool breeze from the waters nearby.

As the Admirals took to the field, with their size and athleticism resembling that of Handley, the Clay County fans knew immediately that the hours spent in the car would result in a fierce battle. They also knew however, that this is the last year of Clay County High School Football, and the Panthers would not bow to anyone.

The Admirals would begin the game on the receiving end of the kick-off, bringing the ball back to the 35-yard line. Quarterback Hunter Slater would drop back in the shotgun on the first play, and after scampering to avoid rushers, would dance left and run up the sideline for a 40-yard gain. The Panther defense would hold the Admirals to possible field goal range. After a delay-of-game penalty, Bayside would go for the field goal from about 30 yards out, and would be just short.

The Admirals had prepared themselves for Coach Herron’s running game, stopping any attempts the Panthers made on their first drive. But the Panthers didn’t flinch. On the first punt for the Panthers, defenders Aaron Gortney and Jared Estes would pick up and knock down receiver Greg Parker with a convincing thud. The Panther defense would come up huge again on 3rd and 9, as Rob Smith would blast through a large offensive line and nail the quarterback.

To the dismay of many of the Panther fans, Coach Herron would continue to opt for the run even though jaunts from Lamar Jones and Shawncey Simmons would be stopped behind the line. Finally, after many attempts at a similar play, and being stuffed, Simmons would give the ball to Deidric Rutledge, who would run left for a 15-yard gain. The toss left, with nearly 3:00 to play in the first quarter, would be the first real sign of productivity from the Panther offense. Good field position from the previous punt however, enabled Rutledge’s run to place the Panthers in the red zone. Motivated by his teammate’s success, Lamar Jones would also break through on the next play with a run up the gut. He would be dropped just on the edge of the 1-yard line. Jones would continue in on the next play, giving the Panthers six points, with 12 seconds to play in the 1st quarter. The PAT would make it 7-0. The series stunned the home crowd, whose student section would out-cheer the entire visiting crowd on every play.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Quarterback Hunter Slater looked to ignite his offense by handing the ball to the Admirals’ beast-of-a-running back, 6’, 210 pound Jonathon Walton. To the shock of both crowds, in a David versus Goliath scenario, Walton collided with the miniature defender Travis Smith, who knocked Walton flat on his back. The play set up the first set of real cheers from the Ashland fans who apparently needed more than just touchdowns to make their voices heard. The play would also brighten the fire of the Panther defense, which would hold the Admirals to another punt.

Like in David versus Goliath, the play against Walton seemed to put a little fear in the eyes of the Admirals. The Panthers would continue running the same run plays as they had before, and on the next drive, they started working. Lamar Jones and Deidric Rutledge would trade off a set of runs that would each earn first downs. Then, on a 2nd and 9 play, Shawncey Simmons would look to toss to Jones, but would keep the ball and run left up the sideline. Simmons would be stopped just short of the end zone. The ensuing run and kick from Simmons would make it 14-0.

The Admiral offense would turn on the heat with the kick-off return on the next play. Sophomore receiver Greg Parker would shoot through the gut of Panther special teams rushers and head towards the end zone. Kicker Lamar Jones would be forced to make the stop, tackling Parker on the 30-yard line. A series of short passes and runs from the Admirals would culminate with a touchdown run from Quarterback Hunter Slater. The PAT would make it a one-touchdown game of 14-7 with 6:11 to play in the 1st half.

The points would breathe some fire into Bayside, who would hold the Panthers to a punt on the next drive. Jamari Staples would perfectly place the kick, which would roll to the 2-yard line. The next series would be filled with controversy, leading many on the opposing bench and in the stands to shake their fists in rage. On the first play of the drive, the Panthers would sack Hunter Slater in the Admirals end zone. The referees however, would put the ball on the 1-yard line. On the next play, Slater would be dropped again, without making forward progress, and clearly in the endzone, but the referees would again place the ball at the one. Clay County fans were livid. This would be the beginning of a series of extremely questionable calls from the referees.

The Admirals would be forced to punt from the 1. The kick would put the Panthers in great field position at the halfway mark. Shawncey Simmons would mimic the Admirals first play of the game by dropping back in the shotgun on the next play. Simmons would fake a throw, hop left, slalom between three defenders, run forty yards and dive for the touchdown. The PAT would just miss the left post, making it 20-7 with just over 1:00 in the half.

The Admirals would refuse to give up before the half, pushing their offense about 30 yards. A 50-yard pass to senior receiver Geoffrey Stinebaugh would fly towards the end zone, but would be intercepted by a sprinting Shawncey Simmons, who dove in front of Stinebaugh at the last second. The home crowd sat stunned as their team left the field at the half, down by 13.

As in every game the Panthers have played this season, their opponents came out of the locker room fired up and refusing defeat. The Admirals would be no different, holding the Panthers on the first drive of the 2nd half. The Panthers punt however, would have defender Adam Farrow stopping the ball on the 1-yard line.

Running back Joseph Stassen would give the Admirals some breathing room with a 8-yard run up the middle. The Admirals would march up the field, but would be stopped by another interception from Devin Gaddis. Gaddis would return the ball a couple dozen yards, but would be brought back after a Panther block to the back.
On 3rd and 6, a long pass would be completed to DeAndre Wills. Upon turning to run however, Wills would fumble the ball and it would be recovered by Bayside. With an excited crowd, the Admirals seemed fit to make a push. The previous play however, angered the Panther defense, and they held the Admirals to another punt. On 3rd down of this drive, Shawncey Simmons would run for another touchdown, and make the PAT for a score of 27-7.

On the next Panther drive, a pass from Shawncey Simmons to the end zone would be intercepted and ran back 30 yards. On 2nd and 15, with over 11:00 to play in the game Hunter Slater would connect with Stinebaugh for a 60-yard pass play and a touchdown. The PAT would make it 27-14. Things would continue to get interesting, as the admirals would line up for the onside kick. Clay County would get caught like deer in the headlights and Stinebaugh would pounce on the ball for the Admirals. Insanity would ensue, as the admirals would make a rally in the closing minutes. On a raucous 4th and 9, to the uproar of both crowds, Bayside would be forced to go for it. A false start by the offense would send defender Jaylan Ackles off his perch, demolishing the tiny center for the Admirals. In a bizarre call by the referees, the move by Ackles would negate the false start and give the Admirals an additional 15 yards and a first down. On the next play, Jamari Staples would make a touchdown-saving interception and run the ball back nearly fifty yards. Without explanation, however, the referees would bring the ball back to the spot of the interception; Panther ball.

Shawncey Simmons would be sacked on the next play. However, the defender would grab Simmons by the facemask, forcing a 15-yard penalty on the home team. At another random moment, the Ashland fans decided to cheer louder than they had before at the play. After a 30-yard run from Simmons, the Bayside defense would hold Clay County to a punt. Bayside Academy would take an odd time-out prior to the punt. The message from Coach Lazenby, led the Admirals to block the punt and recover in the red zone. The drive would lead to a 4th and 3 run, which would be complete for the 1st down. A short pass to the end zone on the play would result in another Panther interception, this time by Travis Smith on the 3-yard line.

When it seemed the Panthers could then run the clock to end the game, the Panthers would fumble the ball near the 30-yard line. Bayside would then complete a short pass to the big man, Jonathon Walton. Walton would shrug off flying Panther defenders and break through three tackles before falling just short of the end zone. On 4th and 1, the Admirals would run it in for the touchdown, make the ensuing PAT, and make it a 6-point game with 1:32 to play.

The feeling made the visiting crowd a little uneasy considering the result of the previous onside kick.

Bayside would try a different version of the onside kick and would make a dog pile on the ball with several Clay County players. In the end, defender Travis Smith would come up with the ball. Instead of running the clock, the Panthers would bring out the full offense. On the first play, Shawncey Simmons would run straight through the middle of the defense all the way for the touchdown. A 2 pt. conversion from the Panthers would then put a dagger into the hopes of the admirals. A lob pass to Jamari Staples in the end zone would bring smiles, cheers, and sighs of relief. Panther fans could relax for the long ride home or enjoy a nice next day at the beach. Clay County will host Leeds for the 2nd time this year in for Round 3 next Friday.

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