Tuscaloosa, AL – In a thrilling conclusion to the 2023 Super 7 state football championships, Clay-Chalkville emerged victorious over defending champion Saraland in the AHSAA Class 6A state title game Friday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The victory gives the Cougars their fourth state title in program history and third since 2014. The showdown was highlighted by exhilarating performances from a pair of University of Alabama commits, Ryan Williams of Saraland and Clay-Chalkville’s Jaylen Mbakwe, both contributing four touchdowns each.
Despite the remarkable performances by those two offensive standouts, it was D.J. Barber’s final play that sealed the deal for Clay-Chalkville. Barber, an Auburn University commit, made the championship-winning stop on the game’s final play, securing a 31-28 victory for head coach Drew Gilmer’s undefeated Cougars (14-0).
Barber’s game-sealing tackle came after a tension-filled sequence. With merely 2:27 minutes left, Clay-Chalkville had taken a slim lead at 31-28, thanks to an Antone Ellison 26-yard field goal. Saraland responded with a determined 79-yard drive in 11 plays, setting up a crucial fourth-and-5 at the Clay 10-yard line. With five seconds remaining, Saraland chose to go for one last offensive play instead of a game-tying field goal attempt.
However, Saraland quarterback K.J. Lacey couldn’t find an open receiver and sprinted up the middle. Clay-Chalkville’s Carlos Ivy slowed Lacey, and Barber crashed into the University of Texas commit, knocking him to the ground at the 1 yard line. Time expired on the reigning 6A champs and Clay-Chalkville loaded up their fourth Blue Map bound for northeast Jefferson County.
In spite of the loss, Saraland put up a gallant fight. The team had a prime opportunity to take control in the third quarter after Jermaine Paramore ripped the ball away from Mbakwe, but a missed 35-yard field goal left them with a 28-21 lead. The failed boot ultimately paved the way for Clay-Chalkville’s comeback.
The championship game was undoubtedly the most thrilling of the week. Ryan Williams set a new Class 6A and overall Super 7 record for receiving yards with 11 receptions for 232 yards. He also caught touchdown passes of 63 and 77 yards in the first quarter, added a 2-yard TD run before halftime, and returned the second-half kickoff 86 yards for his fourth score.
On the other side, Jaylen Mbakwe also delivered an impressive performance, running 26 times for 130 yards and TD runs of 12, 3, and 18 yards. He completed 9-of-17 passes for 152 yards and a 40-yard TD pass to Mario Craver. His outstanding performance earned him championship game MVP honors.
The victory for Clay-Chalkville capped off the 2023 Super 7 football championships, which also saw Central-Phenix City (Class 7A), Gulf Shores (Class 5A), Montgomery Catholic (Class 4A), Mobile Christian (Class 3A), Fyffe (Class 2A), and Leroy (Class 1A) emerge as state champions.