By Rory Sharrock
There was a heavy fog looming over the metro area with little to no visibility, however, the Academy of Richmond County were the ones with blurred vision as No. 1 seed North Clayton (10-1, 8-0 Region 4-AAAA) ran past the visiting No. 4 seeded Musketeers (6-5, 6-3 Region 3-AAAA) 41-14 Friday night in first-round action of the Class AAAA state playoffs at Tara Stadium.
As a result of its rout, North Clayton will host Statesboro (10-1, 5-1 Region 2-AAAA) in the second round next Friday back at Tara Stadium.
"We're 1-0 right now and we're excited about that. But we also know we have a tough one next week with Statesboro. We're not looking too far ahead. We have to come to practice hard and get back at it," said North Clayton head coach Rodney Hackney.
It was still anybody's ballgame in the first quarter with North Clayton holding on to a 7-0 lead. But the Eagles poured it on in the second quarter with three rushing touchdowns, two by junior running back Clarence Jackson, to go ahead 28-0 at the half and virtually put this playoff match to bed.
"I think we didn't play up to our level in the beginning, but we picked up on it and we played harder as a team near the end. I'm really happy, but I can't take it to the head because we have Statesboro next. We're just taking it one team at a time to get to the (Georgia) Dome," said Jackson.
All year long, North Clayton's calling card has been a bruising ground game and an aggressive defense that is as tight with giving up field possession as airport security and both elements were on full display versus Richmond Academy.
The Eagles rushed for over 300 yards and totaled five touchdowns on the ground led by Jackson, who made four trips to the end zone.
"We do what we do. One time, our offensive line coach (Derric Avery) said they have 10 in the box and they're bringing the free safety in. I think we can throw the ball when we need to, we just thought we could move the ball running it and we kept running," Hackney said.
On defense, the Eagles' front line made a living in the Musketeers' backfield all night. With the lead growing larger for North Clayton, Richmond Academy abandoned the running game in an attempt to pass its way back into contention.
But even with eight Eagle defenders dropping back and a three-man rush on almost every down, Musketeer quarterback Mar-Quan Medlock was still scrambling for his life while struggling to find an open receiver.
While his Eagle players are flying in uncharted territory, Hackney is no stranger to playoff football. In 2001, he guided Riverdale to the second round against Valdosta.
"I've been to the second round before and in the second round, everybody's good," said Hackney. "You don't see many blowouts in the second round so we have our hands full. I'm excited and I'm making sure I carry over what I learned in my past for these guys."