Clay County Clinches State Championship Berth Via 40-33 Win vs. Coalfield

By Michael Lindsay


A season for the history books will write one final chapter next week as the Clay County Bulldogs have advanced to the Class 1A football state championship following Friday’s 40-33 victory over Coalfield.

“We’ve talked about this since day one; it hasn’t hit home yet,” said Clay County head coach Bruce Lamb. “We wanted to play 15 games, and we’re going to get that opportunity.”

Lamb came out of retirement to coach in Celina and saw the Bulldogs’ potential from the beginning.

“From day one when I watched their film from last season,” he said on when he knew. “I knew they were special and could do something like this with hard work.”

Clay County’s star-studded senior class has played a vital role in their 2022 success, which includes the school’s first region championship and state championship berth.

“They lead on the field and off,” Lamb said. “They don’t have to say anything, they lead by example. They’re even better kid than football players, and you don’t find that everywhere.”

The Bulldogs (13-1) hosted the now 12-2 Coalfield Yellow Jackets in Celina for Friday’s semifinal round. Clay County needed a fourth-and-goal stop with less than two minutes remaining to seal their 40-33 win.

Despite the narrow finish, Clay County dominated early as they went up 20-0 with 8:38 left in the second period. The Bulldogs scored twice in the first quarter as Alec Kerr broke loose on a 64-yard touchdown run followed by an 11-yard keeper by quarterback Keaton Arms. Early in the second, senior running back Joseph Marcom punched in a 2-yard touchdown rush and caught a 2-point conversion to put the Bulldogs up 20.

We came out and played well at first; we made tackles when we needed to and got a couple turnovers,” Lamb said.

Coalfield wouldn’t go away quietly as the Jackets answered with a 56-yard touchdown pass two minutes later to trim the Clay lead to 20-6 with 6:33 left until halftime.

Clay County pushed their lead back out to 20 on the ensuing drive as Kerr rushed in a 23-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs ahead 26-6 with 3:24 left until the break.

Both teams would find the end zone again before halftime as the Yellow Jackets connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 remaining in the period, followed by a Marcom 11-yard rush to make the score 33-13 at halftime.

Clay County looked poised to put the game away early in the second half as Marcom broke loose for a 50-yard touchdown rush on the first play of the third quarter, giving the Bulldogs a 40-13 lead.

Only three points separated Coalfield from the mercy rule as they trailed by 27 points with 11:48 remaining in the game. Despite the 4-touchdown deficit, the Yellow Jackets put their halftime adjustments to use and scored 20 unanswered points in a 12-minute span to bring the game within one score at 40-33 with 8:11 remaining.

“Coalfield had a great game plan and started coming back on us,” Lamb said. “It was tough tonight; they did a lot of things that were our kryptonite and we hadn’t seen all year long.”

Coalfield had a chance to take the lead late as the Jackets drove into the red zone with less than 4 minutes remaining. The Yellow Jackets made it to the Clay County 4-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-goal with less than 2 minutes on the clock.

“We were trying to get a little pressure on them; they’re maybe the best offensive line we’ve faced all year and did a great job of protecting their quarterback,” Lamb said.

The Bulldogs got enough pressure on Coalfield to force an incompletion in the back-right corner of the end zone, turning the ball over on downs and sealing Clay County’s 40-33 semifinal victory and a trip to the Class 1A state championship game vs. McKenzie.

Preparation for Friday’s state championship game won’t be different from the previous 14 games.

“We’ll do the same things,” Lamb said. “That’s what we’ve done for 14 weeks. I’m kind of superstitious. Everybody says McKenzie is in a different league, but it’s one game.”

Clay County vs. McKenzie for the Class 1A state championship is scheduled for 2 p.m. CDT at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.