By Danny C. Davis
Prior to the 2020 season, not many people were expecting the Clinton Arrows to make a run for the 2020 MHSAA Class 6 state championship. After all, Clinton had gone three seasons without even a single playoff appearance since winning the Class 6A title in 2016.
Because of COVID-19, the whole season even happening was in doubt until late August, and then it would be week-to-week.
But, as strange as the year 2020 has been, the Clinton Arrows were just one play away from winning the Class 6A North title and defeating defending state champion Oxford to reach the overall title game on Friday night, November 27. On fourth and ten from the Oxford Charger 25, Arrow QB Caleb Miller’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete with thirty seconds left, and Oxford escaped Clinton a 31-27 winner….and the 2020 dream season ended on Arrow Drive.
“In twenty years of coaching, I could not be more proud of our team this year and what they achieved,” said Arrows head coach Judd Boswell. “We had been building for this since this group of seniors was in the eighth grade. They were such leaders on and off the field, and our school and community should be proud of them.”
“It was not in the cards tonight, but give this team credit,” continued Boswell. “They got the community to buy in and changed things this year. Football was a life-changing experience for a lot of players here at Clinton. We didn’t even think we would have a season on June 15, and they just kept working so hard – and then they went out and beat three top-five-ranked teams to get us to the North Championship game. Up to the last play, they felt they could win.”
Clinton did, for most of the game, look like a team that was going to stop Oxford’s 24-game winning streak that stretched back to August 2019.
After Oxford took a 10-0 lead on a field goal and an interception returned for a touchdown, Clinton scored twenty unanswered points to take a 20-10 lead with eight minutes left in the third period.
Miller threw a 16-yard TD pass to Jordyn Battee, who made an unbelievable catch over two Oxford defenders with 4:07 left in the half to make it 14-7 with Price Nixon point after. Six plays later, Oxford went for it fourth and one at their own 45, only to be stuffed by the Arrow defense led by Jamarea Briscoe. After a couple penalties against CHS, Miller threw to Michael Hughes for a 56-yard gain to the Chargers’ nine. Miller put Clinton ahead 14-10 three plays later on a two-yard run with twelve seconds remaining in the half.
To start the second half, Clinton went eighty yards in eight plays and went ahead 20-10 on Miller’s 45-yard TD pass to Carsson DeYoung. But a missed extra point would loom big.
Oxford answered with a twelve-play, 61-yard drive to score and cut it to 20-17.
Then, a big mistake gave the Chargers the lead again. Eighteen seconds later, Miller fumbled, and Oxford returned the fumble four yards for a score, to make it 24-20.
But, like other tight games against top five teams this year, Clinton came right back to take the lead. The Arrow defense stopped Oxford again on a fourth and one at the Chargers’ 46, with Tywon Alexander making the stop. Nine plays, later Miller found Battee again for a nine-yard TD pass, and Clinton regained the lead 27-24 with 4:55 left.
It seemed victory was in reach, and the Arrows defense played well but had a tough time stopping Charger running back Omar Howell, who had 209 yards rushing on thirty carries. Howell carried six times on Oxford’s next possession and put the Chargers ahead for good, 31-27, on a three-yard run with 3:03 left.
Miller and Clinton offense drove 55 yards in the final minutes to the Charger 25, when Miller’s last pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
Clinton outgained Oxford with 67 plays for 430 yards of offense to 50 plays for 314 for Oxford. Of those, for Oxford, 77 came on the last play of the first half.
“We fell short of our of goals, and it really hurts tonight,” said Miller, who led the Clinton offense with 2,494 yards in 2020 and thirty-four TDs (960 rushing, 14 TDs, 1,534 passing, 20 TDs). That is the most since Cam Akers led the Arrows to the state championship in 2016.
“I was not at my best and turned it over, and they got two scores off of that. But I am proud of what we accomplished here at Clinton this year,” said Miller. “Hopefully, we helped change the culture back. Credit our coaching staff and players for what we were able to do this year.”
“We thought our offense could score more points on Oxford tonight,” said DeYoung, who had six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown in the game. “They ran the same offense Starkville ran, and we scored 35 points against them. But we had a good run this year. Once we beat South Panola, we felt like we could beat anybody.”
Hughes agreed. “We’ve all played together since junior high, and we knew we could make a run this year. Everybody on the team really came together this year.”
“There were three plays that changed the game for Oxford tonight,” said CHS co-offensive coordinator Jeff Stockstill. “Turnovers will kill you against a good team, and that hurt us tonight. We hate it for our seniors. They did so much this year, and I do not think there was another quarterback in the state that played as hard and made big plays like Caleb did for us this year. He was such a leader.”
“Our defense held Oxford to only two drives tonight, but we didn’t do a good job of stopping their running back Howell on that last drive. He had some good cuts and was big and hard to bring down. I am proud that we got two fourth and one stops and gave the ball back to our offense. Our defense was smaller this year than the teams we played, but they were fast and played so hard every play. We have starters coming back next year, and we’ll work hard to get back.”
Alexander, who led the defense with eight tackles against Oxford, was also looking ahead.
“We had a good year on defense, and we have a lot of juniors and sophomores that played a lot coming back. We will hit the weight room and get ready for next year. We can get back to this position next year, if we work hard.”