Class 6A Region 6 has been a big factor in the state playoff race the last three years.
Clay-Chalkville made it to the state finals in 2014 and ’15. Last year, state champion Ramsay had to take down Minor in a road quarterfinal battle on their way to the blue map. In the midst of all this, Gardendale has had to watch other teams carry the region banner farther than them in November having been stopped in the second round last year and the quarterfinals in the previous two. They also haven’t won a region title since 2006 when they were in Class 5A. Now, having defeated Minor and Carver-Birmingham while on a four-game winning streak, the Rockets have Clay-Chalkville and Pinson Valley in their crosshairs with a chance to win an outright region title within a span of 14 days.
Gardendale comes in off a 41-28 win over Chelsea, and the Rockets are flying high with their winning streak on the strength of an offense that has averaged 42.8 points in those four games while giving up no more than 28. However, three of those teams are allowing an average of at least 29 points a game with Carver being the expection, and the Rams’ defeated opponents have three victories combined so far. Clay-Chalkville’s defense has held all of their opponents to scores under their average this year, but it hasn’t been by much. Gardendale will want to exploit what Pinson Valley, Bessemer City, and Florence found successful while trying to limit the damage on the other side of the ball.
Since 2012, Clay-Chalkville has become known for the explosiveness of their spread offense under Jerry Hood. It was the Cougars’ calling card and they rode it to a 6A state title in 2014. After last year’s setback, Hood stepped down and Drew Gilmer was promoted from within to a mixed reaction. However, the choice appears to have been correct as Gilmer has led the Cougars to a 5-1 start with their only loss a 34-32 heartbreaker to Bo Nix and Pinson Valley. And while Clay isn’t on pace to set scoring records on fire again, the Cougars are averaging a touchdown better than 2016. The bigger story is perhaps on the defense where Clay is giving up just 14.5 points a game, including pitching two shutouts which the Cougars haven’t done in the same season since 2008. There’s never been a time that Clay-Chalkville was known state-wide as a defensive ball club, but last year Clay hit rock bottom of the defensive side of the football giving up 33.6 points a game.
While the 14.5 points allowed a game is sexy, it’s been wildly inconsistent for Clay. They’ve given up 20, 27, and 34 to Bessemer City, Florence, and Pinson, and Gardendale falls in that category rather than Jasper, Center Point, and James Clemens. Willie Miller will need to continue to grow at quarterback in what should be a fine duel with Michael Crowder. Both QBs are second-year starters and both have a lot to prove following last season. The difference could be in the running game where Clay boasts Quentin Young while Gardendale counters with Stephen Lancaster. The winner of this game stays in the region title hunt with Pinson. The loser is likely to finish third in the region and head on the road for the playoffs.