In a game dominated by the front lines of two championship caliber defenses, it was the big plays that made the difference. And in the end Central of Clay County came up with one more big play – and one more point – than Handley in 15-14 win for the Volunteers.
The game matched the No. 4-ranked team in Class 5A (Central) vs. the No. 4-ranked team in Class 4A, and both teams gave the kind of defensive effort worthy of those rankings.
But Central senior quarterback Boyd Ogles overcame an otherwise uneven night with two huge completions in the game's final minute to set Central up for its fourth straight win in this rivalry of neighboring counties.
Handley broke a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter when Jamerqui Lewis intercepted Ogles and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown with 8:01 left to play in the game. But trailing 14-7, Central got one last crack at tying or taking the lead with a possession that started on their own 34-yard line with 3:11 left to play.
Ogles immediately found Clay Yates deep down the field for a 58-yard completion to set Central up on the Handley 13-yard line.
Four plays later Elisha McNeil punched it in from one yard out to cut the Handley lead to 14-13 with 1:05 left to play. Central head coach Danny Horn called timeout before the PAT, then sent his offense onto the field for the two-point try. Ogles ran a bootleg off of a good play fake and found Carter Young near the back of the end zone to make good on the try and give Central the 15-14 advantage.
Ogles finished just 7-for-20 for 147 yards and was under pressure all night, but he got the completions, including a well-thrown 31-yard touchdown to Davion Thomas, when they mattered and Central was ultimately able to prevail by the slimmest of margins.
Central held Handley running back Tae Meadows to 74 yards on 24 carries and kept the dynamic junior out of the end zone. Meadows appeared to suffer an ankle injury on a carry late in the first half. He played through that injury in the second half, but the injury did appear to affect him.
Handley quarterback Evan Cofield actually finished as the Tigers' leading rusher with 16 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown. His 4-yard scoring run in the second quarter accounted for the only points for either team in the first half as Handley carried a 7-0 advantage into the locker room.
McNeil led all ball-carriers with109 yards on 23 carries, but 50 of those yards came on one play early in the second half that set up the Ogles-to-Thomas touchdown.
It's the first loss of the season for Handley, which falls to 7-1. The win gives Central a 9-1 regular season, with their only loss coming against highly ranked Pleasant Grove.
Both teams start the playoffs at home next week. Central will host Satsuma, while Handley will take on Vigor.
Cleburne County 26, RCHS 14
Woodland 28, Horseshoe Bend 12
Spring Garden 51, Wadley 13
Look for coverage of all of these games, plus our comprehensive playoff preview, in next week's print edition of the Randolph Leader.