y Rory Sharrock
Any legitimate playoff team or state championship contender knows how to win all types of game, no matter if it's a lopsided rout or close-knit struggle.
In the case of the battle-tested North Clayton Eagles, to the victor go the spoils and the region championship paraphernalia that comes along with winning a league title.
North Clayton (8-1, 7-0) faced one of its most difficult challenges of the season and withstood everything Jonesboro (5-4, 4-3) had to offer but still managed to pull out a 14-0 victory to clinch the Region 4-AAAA crown on Thursday night at Tara Stadium.
As a result, the Eagles will now host at least one playoff game at Tara Stadium the weekend of Nov. 14.
"This feels good. This is my first region championship. I had a sub-region championship at Mays (2005). We have a chance to be 9-1, which would be the best record I've had as a head coach. I'm just excited. This is a good group of kids and they bought into our system," said North Clayton head coach Rodney Hackney.
North Clayton and Jonesboro played through an old school 15-round heavyweight fight with both teams trading body blows to see which club would be the first to fall to their knees.
From the opening bell until the end of the first quarter, neither team was able to get a good read on the other as the scoreboard showed all zeroes.
However, after a brief celebration honoring the jersey retirement of former Jonesboro great and Atlanta Falcons rookie wide receiver Harry Douglas at the end of the first quarter, the tempo picked up for North Clayton.
The Eagles drove to the doorstep after junior running back Clarence Jackson took off for a 43-yard run down to the 3-yard line. But their scoring chances looked bleak after a set of penalties pushed them back to the 10-yard line.
Nevertheless, North Clayton was determined to score and score it did as quarterback Melton Artis tossed a strike to Jackson out the backfield. The extra point, however, was no good and the Eagles led 6-0.
The Eagles later made a return trip to the end zone after Artis used his gifted scrambling ability to cross the goal line. This time Jackson's number was called for the two-point conversion and his run was successful, putting North Clayton up 14-0 for the eventual deciding score.
North Clayton's dominating 3-5 defensive alignment and its massive linemen, featuring Emmanuel "Too Tall" Dieke, Albert Carlisle and Drew Thompson bullied their way past Jonesboro's front five, forcing several rushed throws that gave quarterback Cliff Crews fits all evening en route to their goose egg triumph.
"They like challenges, which is what's good. You never know when you go up against a team like that how you're going to play because it's such an emotional battle. They like challenges and they met the challenge tonight," said Hackney.