COVID issues caused the Clarksdale Wildcats to prematurely end their football season as they will have to forfeit the second round of the Class 4A MHSAA playoff game that was scheduled for Friday night.
The Wildcats (6-3, 1-0) were scheduled to host Itawamba Agricultural High School after winning the first round at home against North Pontotoc Friday 21-7.
The Clarksdale game against Itawamba Agricultural would have been a rematch from the first round of the 2018 playoffs. The Wildcats won that game 21-16.
Clarksdale finishes 2020 with a Region 3-4A district championship and a first-round playoff win against the Vikings.
In the victory against North Pontotoc, the Wildcats and Vikings were scoreless at halftime, but Clarksdale scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to take a 21-0 lead.
“We just had to make a couple of adjustments,” said Clarksdale coach Henry Johnson after Friday’s win. “We had to get something going on offense. The defense was playing fine, so they just kept doing what they needed to do.”
North Pontotoc had two opportunities to score during the first half, but the Wildcats defense made key stops.
Clarksdale senior running back Sammie Ray lost a fumble giving North Pontotoc possession at the Wildcats 21 with 3:37 remaining in the first quarter.
The Vikings turned the ball over on downs with an incomplete pass capping off the drive. Wildcats senior cornerback Jamarius Dorsey was covering the North Pontotoc receiver on the play.
Clarksdale regained possession at its own 24-yard-line with 1:22 remaining in the first quarter.
North Pontotoc drove the ball to the Clarksdale 11, but Wildcats junior safety tackled a Vikings player for a loss on fourth down.
Clarksdale regained possession with a little more than 4:20 remaining in the first half.
“Big plays right there for us,” said Johnson of the two fourth-down stops. “The defense stepped up big tonight.”
Clarksdale’s offense took over in the second half.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Clarksdale held the ball for 13 plays and 5:28.
Ray ran the ball to his left for a 7-yard touchdown with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter. Senior Josh Hollins connected on the PAT to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
Senior quarterback Tamera Allen connected on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hollins with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter to extend the lead to 13-0. Hollins missed the PAT.
Johnson said adjustments on the offensive line helped Clarksdale come out and execute in the third quarter.
“I’ve got to give North Pontotoc a lot of credit,” Johnson said. “I think they were a tough football team. I think they came out in the first half and played us real tough. That’s just what I think. That had a lot to do with us. But they just came out and played us hard.”
Senior defensive tackle Elbert Hines and senior defensive end and defensive tackle Vincent Sims combined for a sack on the first play from scrimmage on the Vikings’ ensuing drive. That led to a punt three plays later.
In an attempt to run time off the clock, the Wildcats – still ahead 13-0 – went to the Wildcat offense with Ray at quarterback while Allen moved to the wide receiver position.
This came with 8:20 remaining in the fourth quarter as Clarksdale had possession at the North Pontotoc 42 following a senior middle linebacker De’meric Strong fumble recovery.
Ray ran the ball on quarterback keepers for six connective plays. The six runs totaled 31 yards and his longest run of those plays was 10 yards.
Junior running back Solomon Kemp finished the drive off running for an 11-yard touchdown with 4:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ray completed a jump pass to Hollins for the 2-point conversion to extend Clarksdale’s advantage to 21-0.
“Sammie Ray and the Wildcat is pretty rough,” Johnson said. “I can’t say much more about that. He just gets tired in that Wildcat. It wares him down.”
After North Pontotoc came back and scored to cut Clarksdale’s lead to 21-7, Johnson said he wanted to go back to the Wildcat offense, but Ray was too tired.
Kemp and junior running back Leroy Boulton carried the ball for the Wildcats on several plays down the stretch.
“Solomon stepped up big as a young back for us,” Johnson said. “Leroy ran the ball hard late. We’re proud of both of those guys. I’m proud of the offensive line.”
Even though Ray lost a fumble deep in Clarksdale territory early in the contest, Johnson did not consider taking him out of the game plan.
“We just have to stay with Sammie,” Johnson said. “Sammie’s our guy. Sammie has led this football team the whole season. We just weren’t going to go away from Sammie.”
Senior running back and wide receiver DK Bays and senior middle linebacker and outside linebacker Dominick Hill were out with injuries.
Following the win last Friday, Johnson said Bays might have been ready to play this coming Friday. Hill was scheduled to be out for a few weeks, but could have possibly returned had the Wildcats made a deep run in the playoffs.