Canton Academy's Keyshawn Clanton (6) heads down field pursued by the Tri-County defense in the MAIS Class A-AA Championship on Thursday, November 17, 2016, at Jackson Academy.
Canton Academy's Keyshawn Clanton (6) heads down field pursued by the Tri-County defense in the MAIS Class A-AA Championship on Thursday, November 17, 2016, at Jackson Academy.
Canton Academy won its first state championship in 20 years last Thursday by defeating cross-county rival Tri-County Academy 21-7 in the MAIS A-AA state championship game.

TCA played a hard-fought match while dealing with the loss of teammate Taylor Martin, the team’s starting center, who passed away in a vehicle accident two days before the title game.

Panthers head coach Ron Jurney said that they have a lot of respect for their cross-county rivals.

“As always it is an intense rivalry, but we have a lot of mutual respect for each other. Both teams were hitting each other pretty hard, but they were always quick to help each other up. They have a lot of class over there and we have a lot of respect for each other,” Jurney said.

This was the second season in a row that the Panthers and Rebels had a rematch in the playoffs and Tri-County's second visit to the championship game in a row.

Swayze Bozeman got the Rebels off to a good start scoring one rushing touchdown in the first quarter. Canton Academy’s Ben Barr had 109 yards on 13 carries and scored the tying touchdown.

Canton Academy scored two more unanswered touchdowns in the second half and played solid defense as the clock winded down.

Jurney said his team had been motivated all season from players on the 1996 championship team.

“We opened this season recognizing the 20th anniversary of that team. We had some of the guys come back and talk to the team. We already had the goal to win a championship but I think that really enforced our guys attitudes,” Jurney said.

uarterback Kyle Kindred threw a touchdown pass to Joseph McLean and Keyshawn Clanton picked up another touchdown on a one yard run.

The Panther defense picked off three TCA passes and was led by Patrick Sandridge in tackles.

“All in all our kids came to play. They were hungry. These seniors have left an important legacy. They were a close group that had high expectations for themselves and their teammates. The guys coming back have learned some valuable lessons about what it takes to be a champion,” Jurney said.

Tri-County head coach David Blount said that despite the loss he was proud of how the team played and what they accomplished this season.

“Our guys played with a lot of emotion but I don’t know that it was the right emotion that it takes to win a football game. There were some basic techniques that they had been executing all season that it seemed like they just forgot,” Blount said. “But, after the game, I told them that I loved them and was proud of them and that they did the best they could and they should hold their heads up high. A football game is just not very important when you look at what else they are going through.”

Blount said he had a young team this season that got a lot of playtime and a glimpse at the championship and was excited to see what they would do in the future.