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 Saraland vs Clay-Chalkville | Friday - December 8, 2023 | Class 6A Championship Game 

QB #9 Jaylen Mbakwe (Clay-Chalkville) throws a touchdown pass in the second quarter against Parker. Photo by Erin Nelson Sweeney

On Friday night, the defending champions, the Saraland Spartans, will face the Clay-Chalkville Cougars in the 2023 AHSAA 6A State Football Championship at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Both teams come into the championship matchup undefeated this season. 

Saraland (14-0) comes into this game with playoff wins over McAdory (54-14), Briarwood Christian (51-14), Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (31-21), and Pike Road (46-7). Saraland averages 51.9 points per game. Most of their games were only played a few quarters a game due to the big halftime lead.

Quarterback KJ Lacey is having a big season for the Spartans. The junior, Texas commitment, has completed 191-of-276 passing for 3,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Also, Lacey has 48 yards on 26 carries and five touchdowns. Lacey is pretty much fearless and can make every throw with great confidence. He can move around the pocket with his footwork while keeping his eyes down the field and continuing to pick up his receivers. Backup quarterback Gage Weaver has completed 22-of-33 passing for 209 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. 

The Spartans running game is in good shape with returning starter Santae McWilliams. McWilliams is a dynamic running back with great speed and can break the long run on any carry.  The junior running back has 997 yards on 155 carries with 20 touchdowns this season. Sophomore Deshawn Spencer has 561 yards on 59 carries and six touchdowns. Sophomore Lawardrick Jones has 201 yards on 41 carries with two touchdowns.

The Spartans wide receiver core is special. Last season, Mr. Football has the speed, size, and jumping ability and could make a special play every time he touches the ball. He has a ton of speed and has great hands. Williams, an Alabama commitment, has 60 receptions for 1,088 yards and 17 touchdowns. Also, Williams will run the wildcat, and he has been dynamic in that way, which is another way Williams impacts a game. Williams has 265 yards on 27 carries and six touchdowns on the ground.

Junior Carson Gill has 623 yards on 41 receptions and four touchdowns. Junior Dillion Alfred has 31 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Jordan Dees has 29 receptions for 476 yards and eight touchdowns. 

The Spartans' offensive line has been good, keeping Lacey and the Spartans' run game going. Bryceson Chastang, Landon Harris, Brandon "Lurch" Autery, Daylan Martin, and Ethan Green lead the Spartans line play. Captain offensive lineman Carson Maloney will not be in the game due to injury for the Spartans. Most of the Spartans linemen have opportunities to play at the next level.

The Spartans defense only gives up 11.4 points per game. The closest game that Saraland had in the playoffs was against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa by a 31-21 score, the most points they have given up in the playoffs. 

Defensive linemen Chris Thompson, Antonio "Big Tony" Coleman, and Jermaine Paramore led the Spartans' defensive front line. The senior Thompson has 43 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks this season. Four-star Coleman, an Alabama commitment, has 62 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. Senior Jermaine Paramore has 45 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and five sacks. 

The Spartan linebackers lead the team with tackles. Cam'Ron York has 78 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks. York leads the team in tackles and sacks. Senior Camron Laffitte has 72 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and an interception. Senior Jamison Curtis has 71 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and two sacks. Junior Isaih Bowie has 37 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

The Spartan secondary has five interceptions this season. Zay Crenshaw, Delvon Gulley, Arterus Moffett, and Brooks Womble led the way for the Spartans' secondary. Crenshaw leads the team with two interceptions this season. Gulley leads the secondary group with 33 tackles and four tackles for loss.

Spartans kicker Tucker Singleton is 61 of 62 on extra points and is 3 of 3 on field goals with a long of 28 yards. 

Clay-Chalkville (13-0) comes into the game with playoff wins over Cullman (49-7), Mountain Brook (17-13), Muscle Shoals (44-27), and Parker (38-13). The Cougars are averaging 40.0 points per game. Clay-Chalkville had a huge win over 7A Thompson (36-33) midway through the season. 

Quarterback Jaylen Mbakwe leads the Cougars offense. Last week against Parker, Mbakwe was injured throwing a touchdown pass in the second quarter and didn't return. "Jaylen is just an elite athlete," said Cougars head coach Drew Gilmer. "Every time he touches the ball, he can take it to the house. He has really improved in the passing game. He has thrown the ball really well for us. He is becoming a complete quarterback for us." The Alabama commitment had five touchdown passes against Muscle Shoals in the playoffs and has 3,000 total yards of offense this season, along with 40 touchdowns, and should be up for Mr. Football this season. Against Thompson earlier in the season, Mbakwe finished the game 10-of-13 passing for 103 yards and two interceptions with 130 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Let's see if the Cougars take the reigns off Mbakwe on running the football against Saraland because he is just a very athletic runner. 

Backup quarterback Aaron Frye had to replace Mbakwe late in the first half and scored on a long touchdown run in the second half against Parker. "That was huge for Aaron," added Gilmer. "It shows all our players when you get a chance to come into the game, you can do it. Your teammates believe and show everyone when you work the right way and prepare the right way; when you get your shot, you make the most of it."

The Cougars run game is in good shape with Taurus Chambers and Aaron Osley. Osley scored a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown last week against Parker. Both are very good running backs that can break the long run anytime. 

Mario Craver, Marlon Compton, Jabari Staples, Kumar Robinson and Bravis Cave lead the way for the Cougars receiving group. The Cougars see Williams speed from Saraland in practice each day because Craver has the same speed. Both can blaze the trail with their exceptional speed. Craver has 1,000 total yards with 15 touchdowns this season. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown earlier against Hueytown this season. Compton returned a punt for a touchdown against Hueytown this season.

The Cougars offensive line has to play big like they did against Thompson earlier in the season. The Cougars have a power rushing game and will need to bring their A game against Saraland. Jac'Qawn "Shaq" McRoy stands at 6-foot-8, 365 pounds is an imposing force. McRoy is committed to Oregon but just received an offer from Colorado last week.

AJ Williams has the most experience on the offensive line. Williams is one of the best guards in Alabama. Jayden Jones, Brady Phillips, and Adrian Spivey round out the Cougars offensive line. “We believe everything starts with the run,” added Gilmer. “Our offensive line has been phenomenal this year. They’ve done a great job. They’ve jelled together. They’ve really kind of gone above and beyond.” 

The Cougars defense only gives up 10.6 points per game. Muscle Shoals gave up 27 points, the most the Cougars defense has given up during the playoffs. 

The defensive linemen Randall Cole, Patrick Smith, and Avion Pickett lead the way for the Cougars. Pickett had a big game against Muscle Shoals with seven tackles, three sacks, and five tackles for loss. 

Linebackers D.J. Barber, Carlos Ivy, Rod Ivy, and Deion Gunn are special as a group. Barber, an Auburn commitment, has 139 tackles this season, and Carlos Ivy has 121 tackles. 

The secondary has Tevis Metcalf, an Arkansas commitment, Jarmarqus Jones, and Xavier Starks will get tested with the Saraland receivers. “They’ve definitely got some team speed, probably overall the fastest team we’ve seen,” said Gilmer. “But we’re pretty fast, too. I think it’s a pretty even matchup when it comes to speed. It’s going to come back to who executes the best.” 

Clay-Chalkville is going after their fourth state title in program history and Saraland is going for back-to-back state titles.

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