The same Clarksville Wildcats who started the 2020 football season 1-4 with three region losses are now heading to the postseason.
CHS started slow after losing eight seniors to college programs and several more to graduation from last year’s team. But they took blowout losses to Stewarts Creek, Henry County and Northeast on the chin before grinding out three victories to round out the regular season and claim the Region 7-5A No. 4 seed on the final night of the season.
Wildcats’ head coach Isaac Shelby chalks the team’s growth up to, well, growth itself.
“They’re just more experienced,” he said. “The guys that we put out at the beginning of the year were a bunch of sophomores, a lot of them had played a little bit and some of them hadn’t. They were just inexperienced.”
The experience culminated in a 40-0 victory over the West Creek Coyotes on Friday, Oct. 30 to cap off their late-season rally.
Four of the team’s five touchdowns came on the ground, but sophomore quarterback Davin Garinger – one of the key young players on the team – played a major role in helping the offense move, even if he wasn’t the one picking up the yards.
“There was one point in this game where Davin Garinger saw something and came to the sideline and said, ‘Hey, this is what I saw, let’s do this,’” Shelby said. “He called it and he was 100% right. That’s the exciting thing about a quarterback. Quarterbacks get good when they can start seeing things as they happen and tonight, he was seeing it as it happened.”
The game started sloppily for the Wildcats. They lost a fumble on their second play from scrimmage on a muddy field under a full moon, but the defense held strong and forced a West Creek turnover on downs. Running back Rayshawn Bowling made sure that their effort would not go unnoticed, scoring a 50-yard rushing touchdown.
CHS scored twice more before halftime with another Bowling scamper, the second of which went for 40 yards, and a Juland Lafortune 3-yard rushing score. Their two second-half touchdowns came from a Garinger-to-Kyelar Edwards 12-yard strike and a Chris Allen 1-yard run.
Instead of kicking PATs, the Wildcats instead opted to go for two-point conversions after every touchdown and converted on all five.
West Creek’s offense was not as fortunate. Because of the Wildcats’ lack of a kicking game, they opted for mostly onside kicks with a few squib kicks mixed in. That often resulted in short fields for the Coyotes to work with, but they never managed to fully capitalize. Instead, they turned the ball over on downs four times in the red zone and committed two turnovers.
They were without any of their running backs and went with sophomore Kaden Pace at quarterback, moving senior starter TiAnthony Wagner to wideout for the season finale. With those factors considered and a mushy field to boot, the Coyotes may have been doomed from the start.
“We played with some guys who had some injuries today, no running backs so that was the big issue. We couldn’t get the running game going,” said WCHS head coach James Figueroa. “We had to throw the ball, that’s what we did, and it’s kind of hard to throw the ball out here. We left some points on the board.
“Hats off to Clarksville High, they did good back there. We’ll get better next year with our younger guys, and I hope we can come back and learn from this.”
West Creek’s season did not go as planned, losing seven games to just two wins – and one of those was a forfeit by the opposing team. They finished last in the region.
But Figueroa is not deterred. He spoke highly of the young talent the program has to offer and is excited about the future – though he is sad to see the current crop of seniors depart.
“I love this group of seniors,” Figueroa said. “I told them that at the beginning. They worked hard every day from coming to practice back in July not knowing what was going to happen during the season with COVID and everything. I love these kids. They fought, and that’s what they did for us. I’m proud of them.”
The Wildcats, on the other hand, are not finished. They will travel south to face the Munford Cougars, who finished 9-3 and 4-0 in Region 8-5A. They are one of two R8-5 teams to have played a full schedule this season and took two forfeit wins.
Clarksville and Munford have recent history with one another – the Wildcats upset the Cougars one year ago, almost to the day of their next meeting, in the postseason 29-28. This one will kick off on Friday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.
“Our kids know what the Munford program is about,” Shelby said. “It’s about toughness, it’s about effort. Those kids play really, really hard. Coach Calhoun does a really good job with them. We’re going to have to go down there and play really tough and see what happens on Friday.
“I told them, ‘Hey, congratulations, you’re back to 0-0, and there’s a 32-team tournament. That’s where you’re at. Be ready to battle.’”