Next fall, the two schools will merge to form Central of Clay County High School, marking the beginning of a new era.
But there was too much blue and white and black and red pride still beaming from both sides of a heated rivalry for anyone involved or merely associated with the rivalry to be concerned with the future.
“On ‘till it’s over,” was the mantra screen-printed on t-shirts and painted on windows of establishments owned by backers of one side or the other prior to the game.
And with two Lineville missed kicks, an extra point and a field goal, and a late Clay County interception, all within the game’s final 4:30, the final installment in a saga that began in 1922 was just that — done.
“We can lose every other game,” said Panthers’ junior Jamari Staples, who launched his lanky 6-foot-2 frame than a minute to go to seal the win. “As long as we get this victory, that’s all that matters.”
The Aggies looked to tie the game after senior Demetrius Lindsey faked a handoff to Tyrone Cosby on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line and juked his way to the second level of the Panthers’ defense and stretched out for a score to pull his team to within one with 4:30 to play.
However, Jamario Lyles’ extra-point submarined its way toward the line of scrimmage, hitting a host of Panthers.
Lineville opted not to attempt an onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff but instead boomed it deep to Clay County’s Shawncey Simmons. Simmons fielded the ball right near the Panthers goal line, looking to find a crease and possibly turn it up field. Instead, the 6-foot, 170-pound senior was hit hard, jarring the ball loose, and Lineville recovered the fumble at the Clay County 21.
“It was a big mistake,” Simmons said of not allowing the kickoff to sail into the end zone for a touchback. “I thought I’d let my whole team down. But I’ve got some good teammates. I don’t have to do everything myself. They told me they were going to keep the lead.”
With Lindsey, The Star’s 2010 Area Player of the Year, under center, the Aggies played it conservative, going three-and-out on a run for no gain, an incomplete pass and another run for no gain by Lindsey.
On fourth-and-10, the Panthers’ blocked Lyles’s 38-yard field goal attempt, which would’ve been the game-winner for the Aggies.
Lineville got the ball back one last time with 1:11 to play at its own 41. But after picking up a first-down, they failed on three straight passing plays before Staples’ interception.
“It feels undescribable, basically,” Clay County coach Kris Herron said. “The things you go through as a coach and players this week emotionally.
“In a normal Clay Bowl, it’s undescribable. Knowing this was the last one. Knowing there’s no way we’re ever going to play gain. There’ll be no playoff rematch. This is it, knowing that for sure. It was some pressure on these guys. It was some pressure on both of these coaching staffs and both groups of players.
“It’s just phenomenal. We did some good things. Lineville did a bunch of great things. We just mad made a play here or there when we needed helped us. The missed field goal, the missed extra point, however that happened. That’s what it came down to, typical Lineville game.”
Clay County’s only touchdown came on a 10-yard run on first-and-goal from Travis Smith with 6:41 to play in the first quarter. The field position was afforded to the Panthers after Lindsey muffed a punt deep in Aggie territory. Simmons added the extra point.
Lineville limited Clay County to just 145 yards of offense, including just 12 through the air. Simmons was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 40 yards on 12 carries.
Lyles completed nine of 18 passes for 107 yards, while Lindsey led them in rushing with 55 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown but threw a crucial interception inside the Panthers’ 5 early in the second half to end a drive.
What’s not over is the rest of the season, something Lindsey didn’t lose focus of following the loss but in no way cheapening its impact.
“This was a big game, but we have bigger goals in mind,” he said. “We have a state championship in mind. That’s something Lineville’s never done. And that’s bigger … .”
He paused before continuing, trying to put it all in perspective.
“It’s not bigger than the Clay Bowl, but that’s what we want to bring to Lineville more than a Clay Bowl is to win a state championship.”
The No. 7 Aggies (4-1, 3-0) will travel to Woodland in Class 2A Region 5 play next Friday while Clay County will hit the road to face B.B. Comer.
“As a coach, I don’t think anybody in the nation gets to be what we’re a part of,” Lineville coach Steve Giddens said. “To be a part of it for as long as I have it’s certainly an honor. It’s taught me a lot about life and the passion that people have for this game. I think this game makes the people of Clay County better 30 years from now.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.
into the air to pick off a Jamario Lyles pass with less