Clark and the Dots served quick notice that victory wasn't going to come so easily. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior hit the corner quickly on an end around, going untouched on a 66-yard TD run. The Wildcats had a great chance to take the lead after forcing the second of Poca's three lost fumbles.
The Wildcats drove from their 48 to the Poca 1, where Brayden Underwood scored an apparent touchdown on a hard-fought 1-yard run. But the officials flagged Nitro for illegally assisting Underwood on the score, a 5-yard penalty Midkiff disputed.
On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Underwood was stonewalled by Brandon Pryor, Hayden Bailey, Gibson and other Dots.
After that, the Dots drive 99 yards, all on the ground, to take a 19-10 lead. White's 32-yard field goal gave set the halftime score at 19-13.
To start the second half, Moody completed one of three touchdown passes, ducking a rush to throw a 36-yard shot to Steven Erlewine. That gave Nitro its first lead at 20-19, but the Dots answered with a 49-yard drive (assisted by an ill-advised late hit) to retake the lead at 27-20.
The Moody-to-Clark combination, which clicked 10 times, gave Nitro a 34-27 lead with scoring plays of 8 and 38 yards. Clark was particularly impressive on the former, bowling over a defender at the 5-yard line.
The Dots tied it with 1:10 left in the third on another run-only drive, with Payne scoring from the 1. Early in the fourth quarter, Poca's defense dodged another bullet on a bad shotgun snap from its 9. Bailey outfought two Wildcats for that fumble.
Then came the fateful punt and Clark's fateful return that wasn't. After that turn of events, Payne scored on an 8-yard run with 4:42 left, crushed Moody on an 11-yard sack and handed off to Loudin for a game-icing 6-yard run with 1:27 remaining.
Lemley has seen his team give up a few punt returns in his 23 years on the Poca sideline, but he hasn't seen such misfortune as that suffered by Clark.
"We'll just put that in our playbook," Lemley joked, sympathetically. "I don't want to do that too many times."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.