Jaden Gilbert didn't initially want to play quarterback for Clements. But Colts coach Michael Parker is glad Gilbert changed his mind, as the freshman put on a virtuoso performance in leading the Colts to a 38-18 victory over Phil Campbell in a Class 3A, Region 8 game Friday night.
Gilbert had 265 total yards and three touchdowns to help Clements pull away in the second half and start region play with a 1-0 record.
“That guy is special, ain't he,” Parker said. “I played him a little bit on varsity last year just to see what he could do, but he wasn't there yet. But I told him this year, 'Son, you're going to be special.'”
Parker said Gilbert was initially resistant to playing quarterback, but saw Clements had a need at the position and changed his mind.
“He said he was lying in bed one night and it hit him 'Coach needs me to play quarterback,'” Parker said. “From that point on, he's done nothing but grow. He knows the offense frontwards and backwards now. He's done a great job for us.”
Gilbert was equally dangerous with his legs as he was his arm. He started the game with a 30-yard touchdown run on his first carry, and then threw two touchdown passes in the second half to Hunter Hall. The first covered 68 yards to give Clements a 24-12 lead midway through the third quarter and the second was a beautiful 20-yard toss to Hall in the back of the end zone for Clements' final touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Gilbert finished the game with 155 yards passing and 110 rushing.
“He's got an arm,” Parker said. “He can throw it 50 yards on the money, and he ain't gonna do nothing but get better. If we keep him healthy, we're going to be alright.”
Gilbert said the learning curve has been steep in his first three games, but the confidence his teammates have in him has helped him grow from his first start to now.
“The first game (against Wilson) was a different experience than JV, but I built up a bond with these guys and now I feel like we're getting there, man,” Gilbert said. “The more the guys trust me, the more I trust them, and that's just it.”
Gilbert's 30-yard run gave Clements an 8-0 lead following Seth Fraze's 2-point conversion pass to Deonate Crenshaw on a trick play.
Phil Campbell scored late in the first quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Bryant Hyde, but Clements kept the lead after the Bobcats' 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Clements extended the lead right before halftime when Crenshaw raced up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown with 22 seconds left in the first half. Fraze ran in the 2-point conversion to give the Colts a 16-6 lead they would take to halftime.
Phil Campbell opened the second half strongly, marching right down the field for a touchdown on its opening possession. Luke Barnwell capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, but the extra point was blocked, keeping Clements' lead at four points.
But the biggest play of the game was yet to come. On Clements' next possession, Gilbert faked a run, stopped and found Hall wide open on a slant route. Hall caught the pass and outran the Phil Campbell defenders to the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown which put Clements up 24-12 after Gilbert ran in the 2-point conversion.
“I felt like that (play) was open in the first half, but I didn't want to do it then,” Parker said. “I wanted to save it until we needed it. I felt like then, we needed to score quick and that was the time to do it. It was there, just like I thought it would be, and we executed it well.”
After forcing Phil Campbell to punt on its next possession, Clements put the game away on its next offensive play, as Crenshaw took the handoff up the middle, cut outside and outran all the Bobcats defenders down the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown run with 1:59 remaining in the third quarter. Crenshaw had 141 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Clements led 31-12 after Alex Krause's extra point, and the game was pretty much in the bag.
However, Gilbert had one more big play in him. He put the icing on the cake with 8:03 remaining with his 20-yard scoring toss to Hall.
Hall finished the game with 116 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches.
Phil Campbell (3-1, 1-1) got a consolation touchdown in the final minutes on a 22-yard run by Barnwell, but Clements (1-2, 1-0) recovered the ensuing kickoff and was able to run out the clock.
Parker said it was important for Clements to start region play with a win, but the Colts will need to keep that same intensity this week as they prepare to play Colbert Heights in another region matchup Friday.
“I had a meeting with (the players) and told them we've got to do whatever it takes,” Parker said. “And that's what they did. They did whatever it took tonight to make it happen. That's big for us, because (Phil Campbell) is not a bad football team at all. I'm looking forward to (Friday's game) now, we've just got to stay healthy.”