Munford sophomore Icarius Hodgin intercepted a pass, Clarksville’s first of the game, with 5:38 left in the third quarter of Friday night’s first round Class 5A state playoff game.
Thirteen plays later sophomore quarterback Ben Cerniglia scored from a yard out, finishing off a time-consuming drive that has been a signature for Munford the last several seasons.
The Cougars led 28-13 with 10:44 left in the game. The fans who had showed up to brave a chilly night were pumped up and certainly thinking about a second-round playoff game.
It wasn’t to be.
Clarksville scored two touchdowns, thanks in no small part to a recovered onside kick, over the next four-plus minutes and kicked a field goal with 1:52 left to win 29-28 and end Munford’s season in excruciating fashion.
Munford head coach Nick Markle, after spending several minutes consoling some inconsolable players, said the recovered onside kick was huge. He talked to his players before the onside kick and he said they knew it was coming.
“Like I told the guys, in playoff football sometimes the breaks have to go your way,” Markle said. “That was a big one that didn’t go our way. You hate giving up a 15-point lead right there in the fourth quarter. The onside kick will probably haunt me for a while.”
Munford (7-4) went ahead 7-0 when junior Treveon Hawkins broke a 64-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play from scrimmage.
Sophomore Auvic White, who led Munford with 85 yards on 17 carries, came up with a 44-yard run on Munford second’s possession to set up a four-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Jaxon O’Neal with 25 second left in the first quarter. The score gave Munford a 14-7 lead, but O’Neal was injured on the play and left the field in an ambulance. He did not return.
Hodgin recovered a Clarksville (7-4) fumble at the Munford 34 with 5:06 left in the first half. That led to a 12-play Cougar scoring drive which gave the Cougars a 21-13 lead after White scored on a one-yard run as the second quarter clock expired.
Munford’s final possession started on its own 25 with 1:46 left. Two negative runs by Cerniglia were followed by a pass from wideout Jesse Savage that was intercepted near midfield.
It was a rough end for a Munford season that included a lot of positive things. The Cougars beat Ridgeway and Kirby in back-to-back region overtime games, hosted a playoff game for the second time in three seasons and finished tied for first in the region standings.
“I told them there’s no reason to hang your head. We proved a lot of people wrong this year,” a clearly emotional Markle said after the game. “They wanted to win tonight more than anything. They came out focused. I thought we played well. I just told them to be proud of who they are and I told the seniors to be proud of their accomplishments. They helped elevate our program one more notch. That’s stuff we talk about at the beginning of every season. How are you going to leave the program? We’re not just a team. We’ve created a football program here. It all starts with senior leadership. You can’t question their heart. That’s one thing you can’t do with this football team. Those jokers play until the absolute end. They play with class. I’m just proud to be their football coach.”