Heartbreaking start to 2021 season does not keep Wildcats from playoff birth
In February of 2021, the Clarksville High School Football team had not even taken the field for Spring Ball when they received the heartbreaking news of the death of one of their own. Juland LaFortune was killed before the end of his junior year. The loss of their teammate created an early bond for the team months before it even began.
However, the next few months would bring more bad news for the ‘Cats when Quarterback Davin Garinger would sustain a season ending injury, during baseball, before the football season even started.
“I was really concerned the kids had been through so much turmoil,” said Isaac Shelby Clarksville High football coach about the tough off-season. “I thought they were mentally exhausted early. I wondered if they had enough gas to finish the race.”
The Season Starts
Clarksville High School would start the season with several question marks. After the 2020 season, the Wildcats would have to replace four offensive and six defensive starters. Along with replacing the missing pieces, the Wildcats introduced two new coaches to the staff during the off-season.
Jim Irwin took over the offensive line while Isaiah Johnson works with the backs and slots. Irwin and Johnson are both former Division 1 athletes with Irwin spending time at Austin Peay and Johnson playing at Eastern Illinois. To add to their resumes, both Irwin and Johnson played high school ball for the school off Exit 8 during their prep careers.
“Both big adds they work hard and relate to their kids. New blood can be a good thing sometimes,” said Shelby about the coaching additions.
With new faces on the staff and in starting roles, the question that still needed to be answered was who would be the signal caller for the Wildcats. Senior, Rayshawn Bowling would start the season there and capitalize on it with three rushing touchdowns from that spot against McGavock.
The Wildcats rolled into the next week against former long time district and region foe, Springfield. The Yellowjackets held the Wildcats scoreless until the 3rd quarter when Bowling sprang a 65-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately the Wildcats would only add a field goal in the 4th and dropped the game 27-10.
Red School – Week 3
To follow up the rivalry game with Springfield in Week 2, the Wildcats took on their rivals from down Warfield Boulevard in Week 3. In what could only be considered an instant classic, the Wildcats’ Andrew Irvin would hit a 50-yard field goal in the 4th quarter with just a few minutes left to give the Wildcats the lead. Jamar Carnell would ultimately seal the fate of their rivals with a huge tackle on 4th down to force a turnover on downs.
“Coach (Todd) Hood and his staff does a great job,” said Shelby. “It is one of the most fun games each year. Most of the time it is a nail biter.”
The victory marked the fourth straight against the team from Exit 8, and insured that the seniors from Team 115 went perfect against them during their entire high school careers.
Another Old Rivalry
Week 4 would be the return of another old rivalry game for the Wildcats as they faced off with Dickson County on the road. The Wildcats spent the 2021 season bringing back several rivalries including their games with Springfield, Dickson County, and Gallatin (courtesy of the new classification).
“It was huge to get back in time into the old tradition of our program,” said Shelby about the rivalry games being played again.
The Wildcats would start slow in the contest at Dickson, but scored two touchdowns within seconds of each other before the half. CHS would eventually score five total touchdowns in the game. Carnell and Bowling would both score two touchdowns in the game with Freshman Ahmoyre Galbreath picking up his first score of his career in the final two minutes of the game to give the ‘Cats a 35-17 victory and jump on to a two-game win streak.
First Taste of Sumner County
In Week 5, the Wildcats would get their first look at their new region opponents from Sumner County as they traveled to Beech to face off with the Buccaneers.
The Wildcats would allow several big plays early to find themselves in a hole. Carnell would connect with Robert Riley for the first passing touchdown by a Wildcat during the season, but it would not be enough to get the Wildcats back in the game as they fell 40-7.
The Shelby Bowl 2021
Week 6 would be another rivalry match-up as Northeast made their way to CHS. Clarksville High Head Coach, Isaac Shelby still stands as the winningest coach in Northeast High School football history. The game always means a little bit more for both teams.
Clarksville High trailed in the first, but in the second quarter the offense found their spark. Carnell, Bowling, and Chris Bagatini would all have touchdowns for the ‘Cats in the quarter. Irvin would add a field goal and Bowling had two more scores in the second half to give CHS a 38-13 victory. While it did not improve their region record, the win was important to this team after the Eagles defeated the Wildcats twice in 2020, including a blow-out victory and the season ending victory in the playoffs the season before.
“I think it was big for the seniors. I think they really had that date circled after playing poorly the year before,” said Shelby about the Northeast game.
No other team that the Wildcats played in 2021 were as talented and tough as the Hendersonville Commandoes. The Wildcats did not score their first touchdown until 6 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, they trailed at that point 27-7. Galbreath and, senior, Jared Buchanan would add late scores, but the Cats still fell 54-21.
In Week 8, the Wildcats would return home in a must-win region game against West Creek. Clarksville High School dominated the Coyotes 51-0 which marked the 4th consecutive season that the Wildcats had shut out West Creek. Bowling scored a total of 5 touchdowns in the game including an almost 70-yard pick-6 to wrap the game up. Senior, Deago Buck would also score twice in the game.
The Wildcats had effectively clinched a spot in the playoffs after their victory over West Creek, but had two games remaining. In Week 9, The Wildcats dominated Maplewood at home 58-20. The Wildcats saw rushing touchdowns from Buck, Bagatini, Galbreath, Bowling, and Buchanan; however, Carnell would also connect through the air to Bagatini and freshman quarterback Trey Youngs connected with fellow classmate Ben Moore for another passing touchdown.
Week 10 would be an interesting one for the Wildcats as they traveled to Gallatin to renew an old rivalry from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The Wildcats never quit against the Green Wave. They took the lead in the second quarter courtesy of a Jamar Carnell 2-yard score, but eventually would fall to Gallatin 42-28, thus concluding a 6-4 regular season and earning the fourth seed out of Region 5-Class 6A.
“It was really tough. Sumner county does a great job.,” Shelby said about playing in the new region. “Hopefully the younger kids understand now.”
Counted Out at Cane Ridge
The 4th seed did not give many people hope for Team 115. Many people counted the team out and continued to harp on the fact that there was not a true passer on the roster despite the amazing effort Carnell showed at QB after taking over in the Dickson County game.
Early on in the first round state playoff game against Cane Ridge the doubters may have been right. Clarksville High found themselves down 21-7 at half with the lone score coming from Carnell in the 2nd Quarter. The Wildcats, however, were far from out. They scored 26 unanswered points to take a 33-21 lead over the Ravens that was capped off by a pick-6 from Junior Robert Riley. CHS would allow one more Ravens score, but shut down the passing attack from the Ravens in the final seconds to win 33-27 and advance to the second round of the state tournament.
“It was the signature win for that senior group. Nobody gave us a shot and they pulled it out,” said Shelby about the win.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their season would end the next week on the road at Beech.
The major question mark entering the season was who would play quarterback for the Wildcats. That was answered in Week 4 when Jamar Carnell took the job and never looked back.
“Really impressive,” Shelby said about Carnell. “I think he learned some things from seeing it from the other perspective that will help him when he goes back to his normal spot this spring.”
The Wildcats would finish the season with a 7-5 record. Seniors Rayshawn Bowling, Jordan Kennedy and Chris Bagatini were named Region 5-Class 6A All-Region along with, Junior, Jamar Carnell. Andrew Irvin was named the Region Special Teams Player of the Year. Bagatini also received All-State honors and signed to play football at Austin Peay.
“We saw a ton of growth. If we can replicate that growth rate we will be in good shape,” said Shelby about the season.
Shelby moved up to 5th all-time in wins at Clarksville High School with his 44th victory that came against Cane Ridge. Shelby sits one victory behind Jim Snider for 4th and 25 wins out of first all-time. Shelby also recorded his 76th career win as a head coach when the “Cats beat the Ravens.