CLINTON — Iron Man football lives in Clinton, tucked away off a few winding roads in the Silliman Institute locker room.
“Just 11 kids at a time getting called upon to play both ways if they have to,” Wildcats coach T.J. Davis said shortly after a spectacular defensive effort sent his team to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools 3A title game. “Everybody has a role.”
Will Douglas — outside linebacker one series, wide receiver another — saved a spent Wildcats defense with a massive interception in the red zone in a scoreless game, spurring Silliman for 14 points in the last three minutes of the first half in their 27-0 semifinal win against Leake Academy on Friday.
The interception was one of four on the night in a commanding defensive effort that had Leake Academy unable to mount any sort of offensive attack. The Rebels were in Silliman territory just twice through three quarters and had just two plays — both passes — go farther than 10 yards all game.
Sagging back, Douglas snatched Leake Academy quarterback Joshua Jones’ crossing route on the 17th play of a drive that started on the Rebels own 18-yard line, spanned almost seven minutes of game time and put the Rebels into Wildcats territory for the first time.
“Just like the coaches have always taught us, when we see a pass, we drop back into our zones,” Douglas said. “If we do our job like the coaches say, things like that happen.”
Four plays later, Silliman quarterback Zach Kelly rolled out and uncorked a low throw, which Brian Siebert corralled and took 48 yards to the end zone for the game’s first points.
Kelly, who misfired on his first three passes of the night, found a groove late in the half and rode it into a huge third quarter, connecting on 12 of his next 14 throws to finish with 277 yards passing — 116 of which came on three second half passes to Dillon LeBlanc. Kelly added 70 tough yards on 20 carries on a chilly evening where neither team found much rushing success.
Now ahead 7-0 with less than three minutes left in the first half, Kelly commanded another scoring drive, this a 10-play, 43-yard endeavor that ended with Michael Beauchamp powering in from 5 yards out to put the Wildcats ahead 14-0.
As Iron Man football scripts it, Kelly’s work wasn’t done.
With 21 seconds remaining before half, Kelly boomed the ensuing kickoff, which was fielded by Rebel return man Jacob Robertson, who broke numerous tackles and seemed destined for a momentum-shifting touchdown. Kelly, the kicker and last defensive player in his way, made the stop.
“Zach’s a safety on that play and when he broke free, it’s his job to make sure nobody else gets past him, so he did his job,” Davis said. “Eleven men on the field, 11 jobs, 11 responsibilities, it’s just important that everybody executes.”
Shutout still intact thanks to his tackle, Kelly orchestrated two workman-like third quarter touchdown drives to put away the pesky Rebels, the first capped by a 34-yard touchdown strike LeBlanc, who adjusted against man coverage to make an impressive catch in the end zone to put his team up 20-0.
Beauchamp capped the scoring with his second touchdown of the night against a worn Leake Academy defense that couldn’t find any upset magic a week removed from stunning top-seeded Adams County Christian School.
“They were good,” Leake Academy coach Brian Pickens said. “Heck, we were having to scratch and grind just to get (anything). You can’t make a mistake against a good team. They got a heck of a team, they really do. We battled our tails off to get to this point. When you get down to the Final Four, we’re proud of them.”