POWDERSVILLE – Clinton’s quest for its first football state championship since 2009 ended Friday night with a 27-14 loss to once-beaten Powdersville.
The Patriots (13-1) scored twice in less than a minute of game time in the third quarter to take a 17-14 lead they never relinquished.
Harrison Jeffries picked off a Bryce Young screen pass and returned it 20 yards for what proved to be the game-winning score, giving Powdersville the 17-14 advantage with 6 minutes 13 seconds left in the third quarter.
Clinton appeared to answer with a Bryson James kickoff return for a touchdown to retake the lead, but the Red Devils were flagged for a block in the back well behind the play that negated the score.
“They hit some plays and scored quick, and we answered back with a kickoff return, and it just so happened that we had a penalty,” said Clinton head coach Corey Fountain. “You take away that (penalty), and we might have a whole different ballgame.”
It was one of several missed opportunities for the Red Devils (13-1). Young was picked off in the end zone in the second quarter by Jaxon Key to thwart a scoring drive. Zay Johnson, who intercepted a pass in Clinton’s third-round playoff win over Chapman a week earlier, dropped a potential interception of a Hudgins pass with a clear path to the end zone.
The Patriots added another touchdown with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter as Shrine Bowl running back Thomas Williams took an Eli Hudgens screen pass 46 yards to the end zone. Kicker Nate Spearman added a pair of second-half 33-yard field goals for the Patriots.
Powdersville was the first team to hold the Red Devils under 200 yards of total offense this season, out-gaining the Red Devils 241-195. Clinton converted just 2 of 13 third-down attempts. The Patriots held Clinton’s running game in check for the most part. James, a finalist for the state’s Mr. Football award, was held to 82 yards on 15 carries.
James scored both Red Devils touchdowns – one on special teams by returning a blocked punt 15 yards for a touchdown 58 seconds into the game and the other on a 4-yard run with 3:36 left in the first half.
Like Powdersville, Clinton’s defense kept the Patriots’ offense in check for much of the night. The Patriots converted 1 of 12 third-down attempts, but managed to convert 4 of 5 tries on fourth down. Williams, a Virginia Tech commit, was held to 88 yards rushing, but his 8-yard run put the Patriots ahead 7-6 lead, capping a 13-play, 73-yard drive with 6:57 left in the opening quarter.
James’ 4-yard run and his 2-point conversion rush gave the Red Devils a 14-7 lead they carried into halftime.
The loss ends a two-year run during which the Red Devils, 13-1 this season, posted a 24-3 record with this year’s Region 4-3A championship.
“You always reflect on all the good things, but as a coach this is the kind of game that still haunts you,” Fountain said. “I’m going to miss these seniors and the leadership they brought – and the work ethic they brought. Hopefully, the young guys have learned from it.”
Powdersville will play Beaufort for the Class 3A state title at Benedict College Thursday in Columbia. Beaufort defeated Dillon 30-21 Friday night.