AUBURN — High school football in Clay County and hall-of-fame coach Danny Horn proved the perfect storm once again, and they came through a perfect-storm game to make history Thursday.
Quentin Knight’s 1-yard touchdown run and Clayton Yates’ extra point with 43 seconds left lifted Clay Central on top in a classic Super 7 game, and the Vols held on to beat Vigor 43-42 in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s 5A title game in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The victory gave Horn his seventh state championship, the other six coming at Clay County, which merged with rival Lineville to form Clay Central in 2012. A 2017 inductee in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame, Horn came back to Clay County this season after a nine-year stay at Benjamin Russell.
“The good Lord has really blessed me to win some games and some championships,” Horn said, “but I can’t remember one any better than this one.”
The Vols (12-3) emerged as champions after starting the season 3-3. They became the butt of jokes around the state when they celebrated blocking a field goal on the final play at Mortimer Jordan, only to see a Mortimer Jordan player scoop up the loose ball and score the winning touchdown.
Clay Central had to go on the road to beat Madison Academy and top-ranked Etowah in the playoffs then avenged the loss to Mortimer Jordan on the road, in the semifinals.
With the help of defensive touchdowns in the first half and quarterback Boyd Ogles’ passing in the second, the Vols put up 43 points against a Vigor defense that gave up just 92 through its first 14 games.
Then there’s the sense of history in a county where two schools that once formed one of Alabama high school football’s greatest rivalries merged. Clay Central had not made it past the quarterfinals until this year.
Add Horn’s seventh title, and a special occasion matched a special game.
“Getting the seventh one, that’s a Biblical number, seven, and I always said I always would like to get number seven,” Horn said. “It means so much for this community.”
Game most valuable player Shamari Simmons, son of Clay County great Stanford Simmons, caught six passes for 102 yards, including a 17-yarder on fourth down and 10 from the Vigor 18-yard line to set up Knight’s winning touchdown.
Clay Central attempted the same play on third down. Horn saw how open Simmons was and called it again.
“The first time, it was open, and it was a little low,” Simmons said. “I just felt like, I just need it in my hands in that fourth-and-10 and made the play.”
Vigor (13-2) made it to Clay Central’s 25-yard line but drew a false start call with three seconds left, ending the game.
Ogles finished 14-for-33 for 190 yards and a touchdown. This after Clay Central gained just 52 total yards in the first half.
“We just executed our plans in the second half,” Ogles said. “We had a plan to throw the ball coming into the game, and there were some passes and reads I missed in the first half. The second half, we had to throw it a little bit more.”
Kyle Walker hit on 15 of 21 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns for Vigor, and Artell Howell had six catches for 200 yards and two scores.
Howell broke tackles and turned a short Walker pass into a 56-yard, catch-and-run touchdown to put Vigor up 42-36 with 6:36 to play. Walker’s conversion pass failed.
Clay Central took a 36-30 lead on Ogles’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Knight and conversion pass to Javon Wood at 10:34 of the fourth quarter. Simmons set up the score by working between two Vigor defenders and winning a jump ball for a 38-yard catch to the 11-yard line.
Walker’s 51-yard bomb to Howell set up a quick screen to James Jackson, who fought, twisted and pulled his way through several defenders to complete the 20-yard touchdown to tie the game 36-36 with 9:50 to play. Clay Central stuffed Walker on the conversion try.
Down 28-16 five minutes into the third quarter, Vigor rallied to take a 30-28 lead on Walker’s 41-yard lob to Howell and Howell’s 71-yard punt return plus Walker’s 2-point pass to Jackson.
Clay Central scored three first-half touchdowns on 52 yards total offense.
Micah Garrett’s 24-yard fumble return for a score after Davion Phillips strip-sacked Walker and Tyius Tatum’s 34-yard return of a tipped-ball interception helped the Vols build a 21-8 lead by 1:47 of the second quarter.
Ogles snuck in for a 1-yard score for the game’s first touchdown, which came four plays after Garrett recovered a Jackson fumble at Vigor’s 29.
Vigor took an 8-7 lead when Je Marcus Snow recovered a snap over Olges’ head at 5:33 of the second quarter, and Walker’s 46-yard pass to Jackson brought Vigor within 21-16 at 1:33.
Clay Central came out throwing in the third quarter, with Ogles hitting four of five passes for 58 yards to lead a 65-yard drive, ending in Knight’s 5-yard touchdown run to put Clay Central up 28-16 at 7:21 of the third quarter. Ogles hit passes of 23 and 10 yards to Simmons and 10 and 15 yards to Wood.