By Jeffery Armstrong
AVONDALE n The North Clayton Eagles took care of business Saturday night at Avondale Stadium, whipping the Stone Mountain Pirates 30-7 to remain undefeated at 10-0 and win the Region 5-AAAA championship.
The win comes with a peculiar twist - the Eagles have to share the region title with the Washington Bulldogs, who went undefeated in the West subregion. Even though the Bulldogs finished 9-1 overall, both teams' common Region 5-AAAA coaches voted Washington as the No. 1 seed for the state playoffs.
North Clayton is the No. 2 seed and will host Northwest Whitfield Friday night at Tara Stadium in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
"This is a great achievement for our program, but now we start a new season," said Eagles head coach Don Shockley, who presided over his first undefeated squad. "The guys always went by the one-game-at-a-time motto and now we're region champs. I'm really proud of them."
Shockley and the coaching staff had to be proud of the way the Eagles handled Stone Mountain (6-4, 4-1) in the first half. North Clayton took control on the first possession of the game, marching 75 yards in eight plays, culminating in a 12-yard touchdown run by Dominique Randolph for a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles defense came through as usual, stripping the football from Pirates running back Cord Parks on Stone Mountain's first possession. Eagles defensive back Dirk Engram picked up the ball and returned it to the Pirates 43 and put the offense back in business. Four plays later, Eagles quarterback Morgan Burnett threw a 33-yard TD pass to a wide-open Anthony Harvey. Burnett didn't convert the two-point conversion and North Clayton led 13-0 with 5:00 left in the first quarter.
Things got worse for the Pirates on their next possession. The Pirates stalled in their own territory and Parks was called on to punt. The ball was snapped over his head and he picked up the ball and ran out of the end zone for a safety and a 15-0 Eagles lead.
Engram was shut out of the end zone for the first time in six games, but he helped lead a crucial drive in the second quarter from his wide receiver spot. With North Clayton facing a third-and-13 from its own two, Burnett threw a pass down the sidelines and Engram made a nice catch for a first down. Engram also made another catch for 29 more yards before the Burnett-to-Harvey touchdown connection struck again, this time from 18 yards out. Burnett made the two-point conversion and the halftime score was 23-0. North Clayton dominated Stone Mountain in the second quarter, outgaining the Pirates 101-23.
North Clayton put the game away early in the third quarter. Pirates running back Fernando Hardy fumbled and the ball was recovered by North Clayton's Donnell Sanders.
Three plays later, Burnett capped off his nice evening with a 20-yard TD run at the 10:18 mark for the 30-0 lead. Pirates quarterback Carlton Fears had a one-yard TD run in the third to make the score 30-7, but the Pirates didn't threaten again.
Burnett completed 5 of 13 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He threw an interception and rushed for 56 yards. He also picked off a pass from Fears, one of five turnovers on the night for Stone Mountain, the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAAA.
Harvey also had an interception to go along with his two touchdown catches. Harvey, who transferred to North Clayton from Forest Park, said he was glad to contribute to the team's region championship after missing several games with injuries.
"It feels great to help this team win the region. I want to thank all the coaches and the players, especially the offensive line," said Harvey. "I really want to thank Dirk, who's been a role model for me. He helped me get through my injuries and he's been cool with me all year. With both of us playing, we have threats at the wide receiver and DB spots."