By Rory Sharrock
New coaching staff. Same old results.
North Clayton (4-1, 3-0) has owned Mt. Zion (3-2, 2-1) in recent years, winning four consecutive games dating back 2004,
But even under new leadership, the trend continued as the Eagles put up a goose egg over the Bulldogs, winning 23-0 Saturday night at Tara Stadium.
With the win, the Eagles sit high above in their nest in first place in Region 4-AAAA and own the tie-breaker over the Bulldogs.
"That's (Mt. Zion) a good football team. They beat Griffin and we shut them out. That says a lot about us and that says a lot about our team character. I'm just proud about the team character that they showed," said North Clayton head coach Rodney Hackney.
Despite the final outcome on the scoreboard, this was a close-knit contest for three quarters before North Clayton pulled away in the final period.
Following a penalty and turnover-plagued first quarter from both schools, the Eagles broke through after running back Clarence Jackson sprinted for a 24-yard touchdown run on an option play for the game's first score.
Jackson took a pitch from quarterback Melton Artis and showed off his sheer athleticism by starting off going to the left, only to reverse field against the grain, leaving an array of Bulldog defenders grasping for air while glancing at the back of his jersey.
After leading 7-0 at the break, North Clayton's defense added a few points of its own in the third quarter when Mt. Zion quarterback Jarrel King was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety.
Late in the third quarter, with the Eagles up 9-0, Mt. Zion's offense started to heat up with consistent ball movement. King led his squad down the field by connecting with his favorite target, wide receiver Drexel Copeland, who found multiple holes in North Clayton's secondary.
However, King went to the well too many times and his errant pass was picked off by cornerback Colby Brown two yards deep in the end zone. Brown then dashed out all the way to the Bulldogs' 24-yard line for a 86-yard return.
Five plays later, Jackson crossed the goal line on a 3-yard sweep for his second touchdown of the game, giving North Clayton a 16-0 advantage.
"It was a team thing. The offensive line deserves all the credit. We say region champs every day in practice and that's what we've come out to prove," said Jackson.
On its next possession, Mt. Zion turned the ball over once again. This time Eagles' defensive back Tony Koleti was the beneficiary of King's miscue. Koleti snatched an interception out the air and returned it 35-yards for a touchdown, which sealed the win for North Clayton.
"They played us physical in a way that we haven't seen all year," said Mt. Zion head coach Jarett Laws.
"They played the line of scrimmage every down. No matter what your Xs and Os are, if you can't win at the line of scrimmage, it really doesn't matter. We have to go back to the basics and learn how to be physical at the line."