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Demopolis ends Greenville’s season, 26-18

The last pass of Ryan Smith’s high school football career bounced incomplete out of the arms of wide receiver Mikwese Claybourne, meaning only one thing:

Greenville’s season was over.

Running back Damarcus James rushed for 279 yards on 43 carries and scored three touchdowns as visiting Demopolis (9-3) knocked Greenville (11-1) from the Class 5A state playoffs 26-18 in the second round on Friday night.

“He (James) was tough,” said GHS head coach Ben Blackmon, who saw his team lose for the first time this season. “But they (Demopolis) had a lot more intensity then we did. Hats off to them. They came out and had a good game plan. I hate it, especially for our seniors.”

Demopolis head coach Tom Causey said his team came out wanting to match the Tigers’ physical play. The two Region 3 opponents met last on Oct. 16, also in Greenville, and the host Tigers dominated, winning 28-7.

“We came over here last time and I don’t want to use the word embarrassed, but Greenville really had their way with us,” said Causey. “It stung us. Our kids were really focused this week in practice.”

But, early, the game appeared to be headed in Greenville’s favor again. A snap sailed over quarterback Ben Pettus’ head resulting in a safety for GHS on the first offensive series for Demopolis. The Tigers then took advantage of good field position as Smith connected with Claybourne on a fourth and seven play, which set up Cordez Peagler’s eventual three-yard touchdown run with 1:46 remaining in the first quarter.

The Tigers led 8-0.

Then, the wheels came off.

And James and Demopolis woke up.

The junior running back broke off a 34-yard run to move Demopolis into GHS territory. He then carried the ball for a one-yard touchdown, cutting Greenville’s lead to 8-6.

Smith, who missed the last game of the regular season and the Tigers’ playoff win over Moody a week ago because of illness, then threw back-to-back interceptions on GHS’s side of the field. Demopolis capitalized, driving to the one-yard line on each occasion, where James carried it across for touchdowns.

“He (Smith) hadn’t played in a couple of weeks and maybe he was rusty,” said Causey. “You could tell the continuity wasn’t there in their (GHS) offense.”

Pettus then tossed a dump pass to Michael Davis for a three-yard touchdown with 19 seconds before halftime.

Demopolis led 26-8.

Greenville answered.

Smith hit Michael Watts for a 26-yard pass, then Claybourne for a 21-yard gain on the Tigers’ first possession of the second half. He found Claybourne again for a 19-yard touchdown with 8:18 to go in the third quarter.

The Tigers had momentum and then appeared to gather more after Pettus was sacked by Dexter Robinson resulting in a fourth and 20 for Demopolis. But Davis, playing punter, snagged a high snap and unable to get the punt off, raced ahead for the first down into Greenville territory.

Demopolis drove to the 10-yard line of the Tigers, but a 26-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

In the fourth quarter, Smith passed to Claybourne for a 59-yard gain to the Demopolis nine-yard line, but a holding call erased a five-yard touchdown run by Cordez Peagler and Stewart Moody kicked a 38-yard field goal with 4:27 left in the game.

James went to work on the ground for Demopolis, chewing up clock and yardage, but added more drama to the finish by fumbling the ball at the Greenville 20-yard line with two minutes remaining.

But Smith threw four straight incomplete passes, the last a hail mary attempt down the sideline to Claybourne.

Demopolis ran out the clock.