By Rory Sharrock
When playing on a soggy field with land mine-sized mud patches and a cool nighttime breeze, a strong running game can be an offense's best friend.
Cue in Perry Wood.
The Cardinal running back dried off the field with his blazing speed, rushing for 165 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns to give Jonesboro (5-2, 4-1) a 24-17 win over county rival Forest Park (2-5, 1-4) on Friday as the Panthers celebrated Homecoming night at Tara Stadium.
"Our offensive line stepped it up and gave us some good blocks, but I really want to thank the defense for getting us another chance and making good plays so the offense could convert," said Wood.
Wood's spectacular performance came off the heels of a rugged first half, during which he only ran for 16 yards, as his team trailed 10-3 at the break.
Forest Park came out airing it out in the first quarter as it marched downfield with ease on its opening series before Austin Smith caught a 31-yard touchdown reception from Regginald Lewis for a 7-0 lead.
After catching a break following a muffed punt return by Forest Park's Elijah McDaniel on the Panthers' 34-yard line, Jonesboro kicker Eric Cheney drilled a 38-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
In the second quarter, Forest Park looked poised to score another touchdown after fullback Anthony Lee raced past the defense for 50 yards all the way to the Jonesboro 7-yard line.
However, with such a tight window, the drive stalled and the Panthers were forced to settle for an Alejandro Perez 31-yard field goal. Perez's kick gave Forest Park a 10-3 advantage at halftime.
Following the Forest Park coronation festivities during the intermission, Jonesboro showed it was the kings of the field with an explosive third-quarter output.
Head coach Clint Satterfield and his staff revised their strategy by featuring an assortment of toss sweeps and lead runs. The Cards pulled even on the scoreboard with a short gain by Freddie Shannon with 7:30 left in the third to tie the game at 10-10.
As the third quarter came to a close, Jonesboro's special-teams unit rose to the occasion after Cedric Nettles blocked Perez's punt, setting up the offense at the Forest Park 32-yard line.
The short field and momentum swing gave Wood a Kodak smile as he later sprung free for a 21-yard scamper to give Jonesboro its first lead at 17-10.
Wood later posted his second touchdown of the night on a 3-yard run in the fourth to put the Cards up 24-10 with 6:14 on the clock.
But Forest Park regrouped and quickly managed to string together some big plays en route to tight end Mike Wilson catching a wide open pass for a 17-yard scoring strike, making the score 24-17, Jonesboro with 5:44 remaining.
The Panthers would get one last shot to tie the game, but they'd get as far as their own 40-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. Jonesboro simply ran out the clock and left a rain-soaked Tara Stadium on a three-game winning streak.
"With my first year being here and pushing the guys, one thing we have to do is learn how to win and that's something that doesn't happen over night," said Forest Park head coach Rod Perrymond. "We're learning how to compete, we just have to learn how to close out games. Jonesboro is a good team, it just so happened that the chips didn't fall our way tonight."
With the win, Jonesboro has now won four of five over its county foe. This is the oldest rivalry in Clayton County, dating back to 1952. Jonesboro's five wins in 2008 is the most in school history since the playoff year of 2002.
"We're going to take it one game at a time. This goes to show that you have to come to play every night. Next week is at Griffin. But it feels really good to win," said Jonesboro head coach Clint Satterfield.