A-Public: Clinch County 24, Irwin County 7

Clinch County earned its sixth state football title by finding revenge against Irwin County in the Class A-Public State Championship, 24-7. The first GHSA state championship game of the weekend featured a rematch between Clinch (13-1) and Irwin (10-3-1). The Indians handed the Panthers their only loss of the year on Sept. 18, 28-12, but this time it was a different story.

Sophomore quarterback Charles McClelland ran wild for 173 yards and a touchdown to pace the ground-and-pound attack of the Panthers. Shannon Young, who finished with 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns, got Clinch County on the board first with a 1-yard run capping a 7-play drive to give the Panthers an early 6-0 lead at the 7:12 mark of the first quarter. It took Clinch only 29 yards to march the field after Chauncey Manac blocked an Irwin County punt to set up not only the score, but the tone for the game.

It looked like the Panthers were going to head into the second quarter with the lead before Ziaire Andrews busted a 93-yard run down the sideline to give Irwin County a 7-6 lead with 15 seconds to play in the opening frame. Andrews finished with 132 yards rushing on nine carries and was Irwin’s main source of offense.

Young tacked on his second touchdown on a 2-yard score to make it 12-7 at the half. Trezmen Marshall added a 5-yard score with 9:48 to play in the third to extend the lead to 18-7 after the Panthers failed their third of four 2-point conversions. McClelland ended all hopes of an Indian comeback with his 36-yard break away touchdown with under eight minutes remaining in the fourth.

Both teams entered the game with the idea of pounding away at the ground to wear the opposing defense out. In the end, Clinch County outgained Irwin County 292 to 282 in the evenly matched game. DJ Pollard, the smallest player on the field for much of the day, performed admirably on both sides of the ball for Irwin County. He finished with 89 yards rushing and 10 tackles on defense, but penalties (six) and a timely interception hurt the Indians’ momentum throughout the game. During its first possession of the second quarter, Irwin drove 62 yards on 11 plays but Zach Tolar was intercepted by Jervonta Johnson at the 3-yardline to turn back the Indians down 12-7, driving with a chance to take the lead, ending Irwin County’s last true scoring threat of the game.

At the podium, Coach Jim Dickerson thanked Panther Nation for their support and said that both Clinch and Irwin represented the grueling Region 2-A well.

The last player entering the championship winning locker room was junior defensive end Octavius Morris. Cherishing the championship trophy in his hands and caressing it close to his body, the Panthers’ leading tackler with eight stops, three tackles for loss and one sack, said it was a dream come true.

“It means everything to me,” exclaimed Morris. “Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed about holding one of these [championship trophy]. I finally get to do it. It’s just a dream come true.”

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