Clay Central held No. 10 Beauregard to 108 total yards and one offensive touchdown, and the Vols’ offense showed a scary combination of power running and deep passing en route to a 25-13 victory in the Champions Challenge.
The exhibition a week out from the Vols’ regular-season opener against Trinity marked Clay Central’s first action against another opponent since former rivals Clay County and Lineville merged. Ex-Lineville coach Steve Giddens, now Clay Central’s head coach, said that in itself was a significant step.
“Today was a big day because we begin to establish our identity and who we are and what we’re going to stand for,” he said.
Apparently, Clay Central stands for dominant defense under coordinator Kris Herron, the former Clay County head coach.
Though Giddens leaned more on a spread offense at Lineville, he apparently stands for the old Clay County wishbone at Clay Central.
Defensively, Clay Central held Beauregard to 26 rushing yards, and the Hornets managed just 20 total yards on 20 first-half plays.
“With Clay County and Lineville, through the years, defense has sort of been something that’s your staple, your manhood,” Giddens said. “We’ve got a lot of people that have played football on that side.
“I’m proud that we were able to line up with different formations and adjust to their motion, and they give you a lot. That’s a pretty tough offense just to come out your first time. Overall, Coach Herron did a good job.”
The Vols came into the game determined to stop the run, and Beauregard averaged 1.4 yards on 19 rushes.
“We were working all week long on those zones and counters and stuff to take away their run,” senior safety Jamari Staples said.
Beauregard managed David Winslet’ 32-yard touchdown pass to Trey Collins with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter, but Staples also jarred loose three near-completions with big hits deep in the secondary.
“They’re just athletic,” Beauregard coach Smitty Grider said. “Our problem was dropping passes. I think we had six or seven drops that were really big plays we would have made.
“We weren’t able to establish the running game, and that made us have to throw it. When that happens, you have to make plays in the passing game, and we didn’t do that.”
Payton Reynolds led the way with six tackles, including two for loss. Hunter Bickerstaff had three of the Vols’ seven tackles for loss.
Offensively, Clay Central did most of its work out of the wishbone formation. The Vols rushed for 223 yards, but they also hit big play-action passes.
Quarterback Jamario Lyles hit on seven of 12 passes for 150 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown bomb to Andrew Robinson. Staples, who doubles as a wide receiver on offense, caught four balls for 53 yards, and Lyles hooked up with DeAndre Wills for a 50-yard gain in the first half.
“We ran out of the bone a lot, trying to get the secondary to bite down a lot, and that’s what they did,” Lyles said.
Tyrone Cosby led Clay Central’s rushing attack with 113 yards on 15 runs, with touchdown runs of seven and four yards. His longest run covered 35 yards and featured a sweep around right end, spin and cutback across the field.
Cosby was a receiver in Lineville’s spread offense.
“All I did was run deep routes, but coming in this year, running out of the backfield, I kind of enjoy it,” Cosby said. “I feel like, if I get the best blocks, or even if they don’t block as good as they can, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Travis Smith added 64 yards on 11 runs, including a 1-yard touchdown run. Clay Central outgained Beauregard 373 yards to 108.
It was an overall strong showing, but glitches kept it from being more dominant.
On special teams, Clay Central missed a field goal and had only one successful extra point in four tries. The Vols also gave up a blocked punt that resulted in Charles Motley’s 33-yard return for a touchdown.
Then there were four fumbles (none lost) and missed scoring chances.
The Vols started their first possession at Beauregard’s 9-yard line after Anthony Wood recovered a fumble, but the Vols came up empty after Lyles missed a 24-yard field goal try.
A Devin Gaddis interception spotted Clay Central at Beauregard’s 21 in the third quarter, but Beauregard mounted a goal-line stand and took over at its 1.
“When you get a chance to take charge and break people’s spirits, you’d better do it, and I feel like we didn’t do that,” Giddens said. “Most of that, when we watch it on film, I know there’ll be just offensive line miscommunication. That’s stuff we can work on.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.