By Steve Keenan
The Clay County Panthers were on the prowl early against an opponent clad in pink.
Visiting Clay scored on its first two possessions en route to a 26-0 shutout of Class A co-No. 20 Midland Trail at Roger Eades Field Friday, snapping a three-game Panther losing streak and, in the process, halting a modest two-game Patriot winning streak.
Hard-running Richard Ahart rushed 14 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Class AA Panthers. Ahart started things off with a 25-yard burst on the very first play from scrimmage and wound up carrying the ball seven times for 59 yards in the opening drive, capping it with a 2-yard run with 7:28 left to make it 6-0.
“We’ve played some very tough teams,” said Clay coach Steve Ware, whose team had suffered losses to several strong squads in the first half of the season. “We’ve had some execution problems and penalty problems.
“This is a big boost for us. We see this as the start of a new season, and we’re 1-0.”
“They didn’t do anything we weren’t expecting,” said Midland Trail coach Joe Dean. “They did it very well and we didn’t stop them.
“They executed and were moving the ball.”
Clay quarterback Tyler Stewart followed Ahart’s first TD with an 11-yard TD run late in the first quarter, and Stewart’s 23-yard scoring burst late in the second period moved the margin to 20-0 at halftime.
For the game, Stewart ran five times for 41 yards and a pair of scores, and he was 4-of-8 for 71 yards through the air.
In addition to the running of Ahart and Stewart, Tyler Quinn gained 55 yards on 10 carries for Clay, which played without leading rusher Jordan Lucas.
“We’ve got a good offensive line,” said Ware. “They’ve done a very good job.”
Midland Trail participants wore pink clothing and equipment in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And, the school staged a special ceremony prior to the contest.
Once the game got started, the Patriots couldn’t generate a lot of offense, gaining 93 total yards compared to 372 for Clay.
“Every time we got a big play, we got a penalty,” lamented Dean.
In one such instance, the Patriots trailed 14-0 but got a nice passing hook-up from Glen Neal to Austin Burdette for 19 yards across the middle to move the ball to near the midfield stripe, but the play was nullified due to an ineligible receiver.
With the score at 26-0 midway through the third frame, Midland Trail’s Ryan Wilson took a fake punt and legged the ball to inside the Clay 5, but the Patriots were whistled for two blocking-in-the-back penalties. The ball wound up back at the Trail 45 and the drive eventually ended in a punt.
Wilson had 34 rushing yards for the Patriots and Burdette caught five passes for 31 yards. Neal was 9-of-17 for 45 yards.
For the Trail defense, Burdette had a fumble recovery when he stripped Quinn in the second quarter, and Collin Carte registered a pair of interceptions.
“We knew Clay would be very tough, but we thought we would be more competitive,” said Dean. “Every time we started to get on track, we derailed.
“Clay did a good job.”
Midland Trail (2-4) visits Montcalm Friday night.
Clay (2-4) travels to Sissonville Friday.
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Clay County 26, Midland Trail 0
C (2-4) 14 6 6 0 — 26
MT (2-4) 0 0 0 0 — 0
C: Richard Ahart 2 run (pass failed), 7:28
C: Tyler Stewart 11 run (Ahart run), 0:54
C: Stewart 23 run (kick failed), 2:07
C: Ahart 4 run (pass failed), 7:28
RUSHING — C: Stewart 5-41-2, Ahart 14-158-2, Tyler Quinn 10-55, Brandon White 6-21. MT: Ryan Wilson 13-34, Austin Burdette 2-6, Christian McGuire 4-8, Glen Neal 1-2, Team 1-(-4)
PASSING — C: Stewart 4-8-1-71-0, Austin Dobbins 0-1-1-0-0. MT: Neal 9-17-0-45-0.
RECEIVING — C: Stephen Cole 2-48, Ahart 1-21, Gavin Nichols 1-2. MT: Austin Burdette 5-31, Alex Burdette 1-1, Wilson 3-13.
TAKEAWAYS — C: Jonathan Burnside (fum. rec.). MT: Austin Burdette (fum. rec.), Collin Carte (2 int.).