The MHSAA Soccer State Championships for Class 6A and Class I (1A-2A-3A) were held on Saturday, February 4, and Monday, February 6, 2023, at Ridgeland High School in Ridgeland, Miss.

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By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd

       There were plenty of father-son photos taken after Clinton won its second straight MHSAA Class 6A state boys soccer state championship with a 2-1 victory over Brandon Saturday night at Ridgeland.

       But this one was even more special because many of those fathers also won state championships for the Arrows several decades ago.

       One of those sons – senior center midfielder Hayden Thomas and son of former Clinton state champion Matt Thomas – scored both goals for Clinton Saturday.

       Thomas’ goals – which came in the first half of the second 40 minutes of play – gave Clinton a 2-0 lead. Brandon’s Nygel Jobe quickly cut the lead to 2-1, but Clinton goalkeeper Jesus Estrada and the Arrow defense held on for the 11th state championship in school history.

       Five Clinton starters had fathers who also played for Clinton – Caleb Pemberton (Clint), Cody Barnett (Brad), Thomas (Matt), Price Farrar (Dean), Logan Bryant (Rusty) – several whose fathers were a part of state championship teams.

       Clinton – ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps – finished with a 21-0-1 record, bringing back memories of Clinton’s first state championship team that went 18-0 in 1991. Clinton’s only blemish from a perfect record is a 1-1 tie with Northwest Rankin Dec. 6 at Northwest Rankin. Clinton, which finished 15-5-2 last season, has an 26-game unbeaten streak dating back to a 3-2 loss to Northwest Rankin in the last regular season game a year ago. Clinton defeated Northwest Rankin 1-0 for the state championship last season.

Brandon, trying for its first state title since 2002, finished 17-3-1. The Bulldogs had finished runner-up in 2006, 2007 and 2014 and now this season under longtime coach Randy West, who is the third winningest boys soccer coach in Mississippi history with 699 wins in his career, including the last 23 seasons at Brandon.

       “It was an incredible game and atmosphere last night and the energy of the supporters in the stands was huge and definitely encouraged the players to give their best,” said Clinton coach Tyler Wade, who also won three state titles while playing for Pearl and has been the Arrows coach for the past 10 years. “I’m proud of our team and everyone who worked so hard this year to accomplish an unforgettable season. Being the returning state champions and undefeated put a target on our back all season. The players rose to the challenge each and every game. We felt confident going into the game but knew it would take our best effort and execution to win. At halftime, we felt like we were really playing well and had several opportunities to go ahead but couldn’t get on the end of one. I thought it was really important to get an early goal in the second half to gain the momentum.”

       Thomas scored on a penalty kick in the first few minteus of the second half for a 1-0 Clinton lead.

       “The second goal was massive, and I was hoping it would put them away,” Wade said. “Credit to Brandon, they battled back and never gave up. We knew it was going to be a battle going in and it lived up to the hype. Our players and everyone in the program consistently gave everything they had and earned everything we accomplished this year.”

       Wade was thankful for Thomas’ goals.

       “We are confident in Hayden in front of the goal, and he got better as the year went on,” Wade said. “On the first goal, you must have confidence in yourself on penalties and he stepped up and didn’t hesitate. When it comes to penalties, you must pick a side and go there no matter what and he did that well.

       “Hayden’s second goal was really important for momentum. He has been a player we have relied on the entire season in attacking to create for himself or others. We did a good job forcing a turnover from Brandon at midfield and were able to counter quickly. Hayden did well taking players on with pace, drawing attention of the defenders and striking the ball in the corner away from the keeper.”

       Clinton’s defense did the rest, like the Arrows had all season.

       “We have been really good defensively all year and only giving up 11 goals all season and not more than one goal in any game,” Wade said. “The back three defenders (junior Brady Torrence, senior Charles Chisolm, and junior Cody Barnett) have been solid for us all year denying goal scoring opportunities from our opponents and shutting teams down in the defensive third. (Junior) Caleb Pemberton played in goal the first half and (sophomore) Jesus Entrada in the second half again like we did the month or so of the season. We have a lot of confidence in both guys and they both earned an opportunity to play. The hope for them was to make it easier for each of them asking them to be great for 40 minutes and not have the pressure of playing mistake free soccer for 80 minutes in such an intense game and environment.”