For the second time in three years, Clinch County defeated Irwin County to win the Class A-Public state championship. Clinch held Irwin to just 65 total yards—including minus-1 in the second half—to give the Panthers the 21-12 win on the road. A late sack and forced fumble from Clinch County two-way star Trezmen Marshall led to a Panthers recovery and Charles McClelland touchdown run two plays later to seal the win.
The title gives Clinch County seven state championships all-time and third since 2010. The win avenges Clinch’s 21-7 loss at Irwin in the first region game of the season on Sept. 15. Irwin County was trying for its second state championship, having won in 1975; the Indians have come maddeningly close in recent years, also losing the state title game in 2014. Both teams finished the season 12-2.
Though the Panthers outgained their Region 2-A rival 284-65, Irwin County still had a chance late. With the Panthers leading 14-12 and Irwin County in possession in its own territory, Marshall sacked Indians quarterback Will Stephens as he scanned the field to throw from the pocket. The ball came loose and Clinch County recovered at the Indians’ 27-yard line with just over two minutes to play. After a 2-yard gain on the next play, the senior McClelland—who switches off with junior Marshall at quarterback in Clinch’s single-wing offense—broke loose for a 25-yard touchdown run to give Clinch a nine-point lead. Irwin County did not threaten to score after that.
McClelland finished with 121 yards on 24 rushes, including 16 carries for 98 yards and two scores in the second half, and Marshall had 14 carries for 134 yards and a second-quarter touchdown.
After a scoreless first quarter, Clinch led 7-6 at halftime after Marshall rushed for a 64-yard touchdown at 8:48 in the second quarter and Irwin star running back D.J. Lundy scored from 3 yards out. McClelland gave the Panthers a 14-6 lead at the 8:11 mark of the third quarter on a 35-yard rushing score, but Irwin answered with a 91-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff by Jamorri Colson to make it a 14-12 game. Irwin was unable to convert on two 2-point conversion tries, but Zack Robbins of Clinch connected on all three extra points to help give Clinch its two-score lead late.
Irwin had other chances to take the lead in the second half with the score 14-12, as the Indians failed to capitalize on two fumble recoveries of their own in the fourth quarter. The Indians recovered one on their own 37 and one on the Clinch 37, but the second scoring chance ended when Clinch’s Kebrian Grady intercepted a Stephens pass in the end zone. In the third quarter, Irwin took over on Clinch’s 8-yard line after the Panthers mishandled a punt snap, but the Indians had to settle for a field-goal attempt on fourth down. The hold was mishandled, and the holder was tackled after picking up the ball and breaking toward the end zone. Those were Irwin’s only four offensive plays in the third quarter as Clinch dominated possession.
The Panthers defense held Irwin to 23 yards passing and 41 yards rushing on 32 carries. Lundy was held to 23 yards rushing.