Clinton stuns Vikings with late flurry

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 25, 2008

Warren Central’s hopes for a clear path to the playoffs evaporated in an instant Friday night.

Clinton scored two touchdowns in a 14-second span midway through the fourth quarter, then forced four turnovers in the last 5 1/2 minutes to beat Warren Central 17-9.

The win gave Clinton a huge leg up on the Vikings in the race for the No. 3 spot in Region 2-5A. Clinton (6-3, 3-2) took what amounts to a two-game lead over the Vikings (3-5, 2-3) thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker. WC can still reach the playoffs if it wins its last two games against Provine and Grenada, but the reward is less than ideal — a first-round game at five-time defending Class 5A champion South Panola.

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“We can beat Provine. What we want to do is get on the bus to the playoffs, that’s our motto,” WC quarterback Keaton Sanders said. “We played hard tonight. We just didn’t pull it out. A couple of field goals we got, we should’ve scored touchdowns.”

Cordell Valentine caught five passes for 93 yards, and Jared Thames kicked three field goals for the Vikings, but a number of missed opportunities came back to haunt them.

WC drove inside the 5 on the game’s opening drive, and recovered two fumbles inside the Clinton 30. All three times, however, WC had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. Thames’ third field goal of the game, a 24-yarder, gave WC a perilous 9-3 lead with 6:56 left in the game.

And that’s when things went from perilous, to downright scary, and finally on to depressing.

Clinton quickly moved the ball to the WC 40 on its next drive, and quarterback Brent Chappell threw a high pass toward receiver Adam McWilliams. The ball was tipped by a defender, but McWilliams pulled it in, avoided a tackle and ran the rest of the way for the touchdown. Craig McCraney kicked a knuckleball through the uprights for the go-ahead PAT to make it 10-9.

“I was watching the player and the ball. I just tipped it to myself and broke a tackle and went for the touchdown,” said McWilliams, who caught three passes for 72 yards. “We had a letdown. We needed a big play to boost ourselves up and we got it.”

On the ensuing kickoff, WC’s Willie Fields took a squib kick at his own 19 and returned it to the 30. As he was stood up by several defenders, the ball plopped onto the ground and was picked up by Clinton’s Caleb Smith. He broke from the pack and took off up the right sideline for another touchdown and a 17-9 lead.

From there, Warren Central’s offense hit a wall. It got the ball back three times in the last five minutes, but all three possessions ended in interceptions. The last came with under a minute to play, after Sanders had completed a pair of passes to Valentine and Patrick Taylor to move the ball to the Clinton 36. His pass for Valentine on second-and-10 sailed high and into the arms of Jamund Smith, who returned it 40 yards to the WC 40 to seal the game.

Although the late meltdown sealed WC’s fate, coach Curtis Brewer pointed to the earlier misfires as the turning point in the game.

“When we had two or three scoring opportunities early in the game, we’ve got enough talent to score down there. You just have to score when you have scoring opportunities,” Brewer said. “That (fumble) was a death knell. But we should’ve scored twice when we were on the field early in the game.”