By Jeffery Armstrong
The North Clayton Eagles exorcised some personal demons Friday night, defeating the Riverdale Raiders 31-24 in non-region action at Tara Stadium.
It was the first time the Eagles (1-0) had defeated their fierce county rivals on the field since 1999. Riverdale (0-1) had won the last four meetings.
The North Clayton players whooped it up after the game was over, hugging each other and running into the stands to shake hands with excited North Clayton fans. Eagles head coach Don Shockley was glad for his players and the fans.
"I'm glad for the community and glad for the players," Shockley said. "This will probably boost the morale of the entire school."
"This is great. This is what we worked hard all summer for to get this game," said senior wideout Dirk Engram. "Everybody worked hard, from the freshmen to the seniors. We've lost to them for so long I'm really glad we won."
North Clayton, playing in Region 5-AAAA, outscored Riverdale (Region 2-AAAAA) 14-6 in the second half. After running back Kelvin Colbert scored his second touchdown of the evening to give Riverdale a 24-17 lead with 9:03 left in the third quarter, the Raiders turned the ball over five straight times, fueling the Eagles' comeback.
This contest was a coming out party for North Clayton sophomore quarterback Morgan Burnett. Burnett, who also played strong safety in the game, had an outstanding night, showing tremendous heart in leading the Eagles.
Burnett had a hand in every Eagles score except for the first one, a 37-yard field goal by Shaka Bangura. Burnett rushed for a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter to make the score 9-6 North Clayton. After a Doug Jennings touchdown gave Riverdale a 12-9 lead, Burnett then threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Engram to give the Eagles the lead again at 17-12. A Normiez Reeves TD run put the Raiders up 18-17 at the half.
Riverdale looked to put the game away after Colbert's second touchdown, but Burnett wasn't through. He threw a fade pass in the back of the end zone to Eagles wide receiver Greg Wingfield for a 25-24 third-quarter lead and in the fourth quarter while playing safety, he returned a Jennings fumble 37 yards for the TD that iced the game.
"We feel great about this win. I just felt that we had to have the heart to get this game over Riverdale," Burnett said. "I think we wanted it more than Riverdale tonight."
The North Clayton defense definitely had heart Friday, keeping up with Riverdale's efficient offense. The Raiders threw everything at North Clayton, including reverses, sweeps and fakes and did a great job keeping the Eagles off balance.
"We decided that we needed to squeeze them on tackles and strip the ball," said Eagles defensive end Jeremy Elder.
"As a defense and as a team, we played with heart in the second half," said linebacker Winston Bowens. "Now we've got to come back harder next week, ?cause we've got to face Lovejoy."