After the bands played at halftime, the color guards for each band packed up their flags and put them where they belonged far away from the field. There are a thousand or so witnesses that can attest to that fact.
It's an important note because the way the flags were flying in the second half of Clay Central's region showdown with Sylacauga Friday night, you would have thought that the color guards never left the field.
Central and Sylacauga combined for 19 penalties in the second half, but the Vols overcame that war of attrition to hang on for a 26-7 victory and remain unbeaten on the season.
Central claimed a 10-7 lead just before halftime on a school-record-tying 47-yard field goal by renaissance man Clay Yates as time expired. It was a lead that Central would never surrender.
The Volunteers added to that lead on a 4-yard touchdown run by Elisha McNeil with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.
From that point on the officiating became the story. The two teams were flagged 14 times over the next five possessions, including three straight 15-yard penalties against Sylacauga (two unsportsmanlike conducts, one personal foul) after Central recovered a fumble on its own 1-yard line. Those three penalties – along with gains on the plays that accompanied them – accounted for 65 yards and put Central on the Sylacauga 34-yard line.
After that it was Central's turn to draw three straight flags (two for holding and one for an ineligible receiver downfield) that backed them up near midfield and killed their drive.
But the Vols came up with a fourth-down stop on the ensuing Sylacauga possession, and Terry Heflin ran one in from 25 yards out with 1:22 left to play to give Central the final margin of victory at 26-7.
The win puts the Vols in good early position to defend their region title, as Sylacauga entered the season as one of the primary challengers for that crown.
The Vols, who entered the game ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 5A, raised their record to 3-0
The big numbers
Clay Yates – The quarterback/placekicker/punter did a little bit of everything in this one. He hit the aforementioned 47-yard field goal. He routinely flipped the field with a series of booming punts. And he gave Central its first points of the night on a quarterback sneak that turned into a 24-yard touchdown run after Yates plowed into the pile at the line of scrimmage, never stopped churning his legs and bounced out of that pile to reach the end zone.
He finished with 18 carries for 83 hard-earned yards and also completed four passes for 23 yards.
Elisha McNeil – McNeil led the Vols with 93 yards on 15 carries and had one of two Central interceptions in the game. McNeil has now rushed for at least one touchdown in each of the first three games of the season and has averaged 125 rushing yards per game in that time.
Terry Heflin – Heflin had the other interception, which came on Sylacauga's second possession with the score tied 7-7. The Aggies had just thrown a 52-yard bomb to score their first touchdown on the opening possession, but Heflin's pick helped kill some of that early momentum in the Aggies' passing game. Heflin also rushed five times for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Penalties – The final tally: Central finished with nine penalties for 103 yards, while Sylacauga was flagged a whopping 18 times for 146 yards.
Ranburne 36, Vincent 35 – A big come-from-behind win for the Bulldogs. Jaxon Langley caught the go-ahead touchdown pass late to push Ranburne over the top and get them 2-1 on the season.
Wadley 49, Talladega County Central 0
Handley 40, Munford 10
LaFayette 34, RCHS 12
Look for full coverage of these games – with stats, stories and photos – in next week's print edition of the Randolph Leader.