With quarterback Jamario Lyles and tailback Tyrone Cosby usually playing the impact roles on offense, Friday was running back Curtis Hunter’s turn to steal the show as the second-ranked Volunteers beat No. 5 Handley 38-0 on the road.
“Curtis has been more of a blocking threat this year and he’s done a good job at that,” said Clay Central coach Steve Giddens. “Tonight we put Travis (Smith) back at fullback to get our better blockers in there. Tonight was Curtis’ night to get the football and he did a great job.”
Hunter, who finished the night with 169 yards on 17 carries, said he had no idea he was going to play such a vital role until he started getting carries.
“It feels good,” Hunter said after the game while searching for words. “It just feels good.”
Clay Central’s offense started racking up yards in lengthy drives as soon as it took its first snap. Its first drive went 13 plays, which ended with a field goal, while the Vols’ second drive spanned 13 plays with Cosby punching it in from one yard out at the end.
“We were pretty much overpowered,” said Handley coach Mike Battles. “We could get them in a long situation, but we couldn’t stop them.”
Despite Handley’s offense only recording two first downs and 36 yards in the first half, the defense was able to keep the score close, only trailing 10-0 at the half.
However, Clay Central exploded in the second half while the Tigers imploded.
Hunter set the tone for the rest of the game as he ran down the sideline for 69 yards on the first play of the third quarter. Three plays later, Lyles hit Randall Brown for a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Handley’s offense, which only ran 38 plays, continued to be unresponsive, going three and out on its ensuing drive. Cosby returned the Tigers’ punt 32 yards to the 28-yard line and Lyles ran the ball into the end zone on the next play.
“We just sort of imploded in the last half,” Battles said.
The rest of the night stuck to the same script as Lyles and Cosby ran in the final two Volunteers touchdowns.
Giddens said Friday night’s victory was step one of showing the first-year team is one of the premiere programs in the state.
The win keeps Clay Central tied at the top of the 4A, Region 3 standings with No. 3 Dadeville, which Clay Central faces in two weeks on the road. Giddens said Friday night’s win provided a big confidence boost with the Tigers right around the corner.
“We needed to play a good football team, and Handley is a good football team,” he said. “You can’t help but gain confidence, and I think we played well in every aspect of the game.
“They’re by far the best offensive team we’ve played. They have big linemen and great skill people and our guys took it as a challenge. I think our defensive front did a really great job.”