By Jeffery Armstrong
If there's any one North Clayton Eagles football player who can take away the spotlight from quarterback Morgan Burnett, it's Dirk Engram.
The senior wide receiver/defensive back/return specialist scored a touchdown in his fifth consecutive game, leading his team to a 31-7 victory over the Jonesboro Cardinals Thursday night in Region 5-AAAA East action at Tara Stadium.
With the victory, North Clayton (9-0, 4-0) clinches a berth in the AAAA state playoffs and the Eagles can clinch the entire Region 5-AAAA championship with a win at Stone Mountain next Saturday.
North Clayton has also beaten every team in the county this season except Morrow, a team it didn't play this year.
It was North Clayton's final regular-season game at Tara Stadium and Engram made the most of it.
"I knew Dirk would have a great game tonight because I told him earlier that this would be his last game in front of the home folks, unless we make the playoffs," said Eagles head coach Don Shockley. "I could tell the emotion of that moment got to him."
Engram went to work after Jonesboro (4-4-1, 2-2) took a 7-6 lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Cazenave to running back Brandon Lucas late in the second quarter. On North Clayton's ensuing possession, the senior caught a slant pass from Burnett, broke a few tackles and raced down the sidelines 43 yards for the go-ahead score, 13-7, with 48 seconds left in the first half.
After playing so well in the first half, Jonesboro fell apart in the second half. The Cardinals had the ball to start the third quarter, but they shot themselves in the foot on three straight possessions. Lucas and fullback Rocky Lee both lost fumbles, the second of which led to a Burnett 4-yard touchdown run (his second TD run of the game) and two-point conversion for a 21-7 Eagles lead.
After a teammate recovered Cazenave's fumble on third down on Jonesboro's next possession, the Cardinals were forced to punt. Engram fielded the bouncing ball at his 32, fumbled it and then raced 60 yards through several Jonesboro defenders for the touchdown and the 28-7 lead.
Engram is making like the Kansas City Chiefs' return man Dante Hall lately n that score was his third straight game with a punt return or kickoff touchdown. He ran a punt return TD against Southwest DeKalb and a kickoff return TD last week against South Atlanta.
"Dirk is unbelievable. He is one of our playmakers and he does a great job," Shockley said. "I still have to take my hat off to Jonesboro. They played well and had a great game plan. The defensive coaches made adjustments at the half and we shut them out after that. I'm real proud of everyone. Now we've got one more game to win."
Shaka Bangura's 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter made the final score 31-7. Burnett rushed and passed for 105 yards and threw an interception. Cazenave was 10 of 23 for 96 yards with a TD and an interception. Lee rushed for 49 yards and Lucas ran for 41 for Jonesboro.