Clay Central wide receiver Javon Wood, seen here in the team's win over Jasper in round two of the playoffs, leads the team with 37 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns.

After Clay Central’s 34-28 loss to Mortimer Jordan in week six of the regular season, Central head coach Danny Horn was in no mood to linger on the field. The team gathered for the traditional post-game prayer, after which Horn emphatically told his players in no uncertain terms to go straight to the locker room.

“I didn’t think we deserved to hang around after the game and take pictures when we just got our [butt] beat in a very important game,” Horn said Monday, recalling his postgame mentality that night. “They’ve got to realize the importance of the games and playing well.”

Central hasn’t lost a game since then, including last week’s 43-15 win over Madison County that has the Vols in the state semifinals for the second straight year.

Now the only thing standing between Central and a return to the state championship game is that same Mortimer Jordan team that had Horn seeing red over his team’s performance.

“When you’re playing for a chance to be region champions you ought to play better than what we did. And we didn’t,” Horn said. “Mortimer Jordan is a very good team, and they had a lot to do with it. But they didn’t have a lot to do with penalties, and they didn’t have a lot to do with us dropping passes, and they didn’t have anything to do with us not lining up right on defense, those type of things. Those are mental mistakes that we had that hurt us.”

Horn saw a little bit of that same type of effort in the early portion of Friday’s win over Madison County. The Vols fell behind 7-3 early and held just a 16-7 advantage at halftime.

“I didn’t think we came out with much intensity, but I give credit to Madison County,” Horn said. “They really came out and took it to us the first half. They came out ready to play, and we didn’t come out with enough focus, enough intensity. We were actually lucky to be ahead at halftime I thought, because I didn’t think we played well.”

Central regained its focus in the second half, scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter to expand its lead and cruised to the third-round win.

Quentin Knight rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns, and Javon Wood caught seven passes for 83 yards and a score to pace the Central scoring effort. The Vols also got rushing touchdowns from Cam Simmons and J.D. McNealey as they advanced to play their second rematch in three weeks.

The Vols already avenged their first loss of the season with their 20-7 victory over Jasper in the second round. But Horn downplayed the notion of a revenge tour with this week’s game at Mortimer Jordan.

“I don’t think it’s revenge,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to play for a state championship the next week.”

A spot in the 5A title game will be on the line Friday, and Central will have to figure out a way to defend against Blue Devils quarterback Kourtlan Marsh in order to get there.

Marsh ran for 154 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 205 yards and another score as the Blue Devils carried a 34-14 lead into the fourth quarter of the first meeting between the two teams.

According to Erik Harris of the The North Jefferson News, Marsh has run or thrown for 49 total touchdowns this season.

“Offensively they’re the best team we’ve faced,” Horn said. “They’re so dangerous because of their quarterback. He can run or throw. You can’t really stop him. We’ve got to slow him down. He’s going to make his yards, but we need them to be tough yards. We don’t need him to break loose on any long runs. They’re going to complete some passes, but we just need to control whether or not those are big pass plays. That’s easier said than done because they’ve been doing a good job with that all year long.”

The winner of Friday’s game will take on the winner of the Briarwood-Pleasant Grove semifinal. The 5A state championship game will be Thursday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.

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