Trailing 24-8 at the half, Calhoun Academy refused to see their season come to an end. The Cougars dominated the second half, outscoring Clinton Christian 28-6 to earn the win and a trip to the MAIS 8-Man State Championship next Friday in Clinton.
"We really focused on the positives at the half," Cougar Coach Tim Melton said. "We've always said whomever has the most fire and heart in the third and fourth quarter is going to win the ball game."
"I can't say enough about these young men and those eight seniors," Melton said. "I'm so proud of every one of them."
Friday night was all about determination for the Cougars. They took the second half kickoff and quickly marched to the end zone, scoring on a 47-yard run by Kyle Carter to cut the deficit to 28-14.
The Cougars struggled to contain Clinton Christian QB Robert Green in the first half, but sacked him on back-to-back plays on their first possession of the second half, forcing a punt. Danny Joe Norman scooped up the punt on the second bounce and raced down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown. A successful 2-point conversion and the Cougars had closed to within 24-22 with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
The defense dominated the Warriors again and the Cougars regained possession after a 3-and-out.
A series of runs by Norman, Carter, Devin Northrip and Hunter Harmon carried the Cougars to the 8-yard line. From there Carter powered across the goal line for the Cougars first lead of the game – 30-24 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
"Things weren't working for us in the first half and Coach Melton lit the fire in the locker room at halftime," Carter said.
Clinton Christian responded with a touchdown march of their own. The Cougars held on the 2-point conversion to keep the game tied at 30 with 7:23 to play.
Calhoun Academy appeared driving for a game-winning score when the Warriors made a defensive stop and took over on downs at their own 10-yard line with just over a minute to play. After hitting a pass out to the 40, a mishandled snap eluded QB Robert Green and a mad dash began after the bouncing football.
Carter ultimately pounced on it for the Cougars at the Clinton 10-yard line with 26 seconds left.
"I just saw it back there and went after it," Carter said.
Two plays later, Carter pushed his way across the goal line over the right side and the Cougars led 36-30.
A shanked kickoff gave Clinton Christian one last chance with the ball at the Cougar 38 with 12 seconds left, but Danny Joe Norman intercepted the Warriors' Hail Mary to clinch the victory for Calhoun Academy.
"Coach has told us all year to come out more fired up in the second half than the first and we just took it to them," senior lineman Kelby Flemons said. "This means everything to go to state. We've been working for this for a long time."
"This is amazing," Carter said. "Calhoun Academy's first playoff game was last year and this year we're going to a state championship."