By Christian Malone
HOMERVILLE -- However far the Clinch County Panthers get this year, their defense will take them there.
Clinch's defense dominated Friday night, leading the No. 3 Panthers to a 35-8 win over No. 8 Randolph-Clay in a second-round playoff game at Donald Tison Field.
With the win, Clinch (11-1) advances to the Class A quarterfinals. The Panthers will host Bremen, which defeated Landmark Christian 40-39 in double overtime Friday night.
"I'm just really pleased with how the defense, and the whole team played (Friday)," Clinch head coach Jim Dickerson said. "I thought our defense frustrated them and put our offense in good positions all night long."
Randolph-Clay came into Tison Field Friday with a 1,900-yard rusher (Chris Clay) and a very big offensive line.
The Red Devils' power running game managed -31 yards rushing against Clinch's outstanding defense. Clay carried 10 times for -3 yards.
"I had 11 football players that just rose to the occasion and played hard," Dickerson said. "I put the challenge before them. I told them that he was averaging about 200 yards a game. I said if we could cut his yards in at least half, we had the best chance to win the game. All of them gave all they had."
Clinch tailback Justin Gainey, on the other hand, was a workhorse, running for 113 tough yards on 23 carries. That was despite running against eight-man fronts all night long.
"Gainey reminds me of a running back from about 1970," Dickerson said, referring to an era of big, powerful tailbacks. "He's not that fast, but he runs hard north and south, and he hits you. When he makes contact, it's the defense that gets hurt. He got some big yards for us (Friday)."
Clinch was relatively dominant, as the score indicated, but the game was close until the final six minutes.
Early on, Randolph-Clay's defense kept making big stops when they needed to and Clinch's defense held the Red Devils without a first-half first down.
But early in the second quarter, Clinch finally broke through. The Panthers faced third-and-13 from the Randolph-Clay 40 when quarterback Lamar McKnight tossed a screen pass to Boris Lee along the Clinch sideline. Lee got two key blocks downfield and took it all the way to the end zone. He then kicked the extra point to give Clinch a 7-0 lead.
On their next possession, the Panthers used 11 plays and most of the clock to go 53 yards for another touchdown.
Clinch used five different ballcarriers to move the ball down the field. On first-and-goal, McKnight dove over from the 1. Then Gainey dove in for the two-point conversion, making it 15-0 at halftime.
Clinch had been in control nearly the entire game, but had not pulled away. Then with two long pass plays, Randolph-Clay got back into the game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Randolph-Clay tight end Phillip Prince went 58 yards on a screen pass from quarterback Cody Hughley, to the Clinch 24.
Then on fourth-and-12, Prince caught a fade pass as he was falling down at the 1. Carl McDonald dove over for the score two plays later, then Hughley hit Billy Smith on a two-point conversion pass, cutting the Clinch lead to 15-8. Randolph-Clay then forced Clinch to punt.
But when the Clinch team needed it most, the defense stepped up. Hughley was hit as he tried to pitch the ball on the option, and the ball got away.
Jarvis Henderson scooped up the fumble at the Red Devil 15 and walked into the end zone for the touchdown, giving Clinch a two-touchdown lead again, 22-8, with 5:46 to play.
Randolph-Clay turned the ball over on downs, then Clinch gave the ball to Gainey five straight times.
On the fifth carry, the line opened a big hole, and Gainey dashed 22 yards untouched into the end zone, making it 29-8.
On the next play from scrimmage, Hughley tried to throw deep, but Clinch's Byron King read the play and intercepted at the Clinch 45. Then he took off running, and raced 55 yards for the Panthers' final score.