Clay Central held off a strong challenge from Sylacauga Friday, but the Vols were able to come away with a 27-22 victory in what may prove to be a crucial region matchup.

Elisha McNeil rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns to give Central the offensive boost it needed in a game that was close throughout.

The teams swapped the lead four times through the first three quarters as they essentially took turns scoring.

Central scored first and took a 7-0 lead, but Sylacauga answered with a 1-yard touchdown dive that cut that lead to 7-6.

Sylacauga drove deep into Central territory on its next possession but had to settle for a field goal and a 9-7 lead.

That’s where things stood for much of the second quarter before McNeil scampered 20 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute left in the half to give the Vols a 14-9 lead at the break.

Sylacauga took its first possession of the third quarter and cashed in with a 35-yard touchdown pass to take a 15-14 lead. The Aggies then attempted an onside kick on the ensuing possession, but Central was able to recover, giving them good field position to start the drive.

The Vols took full advantage when McNeil later scored from two yards out to put Central back on top 20-15. The Vols added another touchdown drive at the start of the fourth quarter after they recovered a Sylacauga fumble deep in Aggies territory.

But Sylacauga wasn’t done. They answered with a long touchdown run and cut the lead to 27-22 with just under six minutes left to play.

But the Aggies would never get the ball back, as Central burned out the rest of the clock with its ensuing possession to secure the victory.

Jakheim McLemore carried six times for 38 yards and a touchdown for Central.

The Vols entered the game ranked number one in the state in class 5A. Sylacauga entered the game unbeaten, with wins over Leeds and Lincoln.

The 3-0 Vols will host Elmore County Friday.

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