By Zack Huffman
Considering the fact that both Riverdale and North Clayton are known for favoring a ground attack, no one expected the grudge match between the two teams to sway on the passing game.
Nevertheless, that is precisely what gave North Clayton its 26-7 win over the Raiders.
"It's exciting anytime you win this game," said North Clayton head coach Rodney Hackney. "It definitely means something to the community."
The Eagles and Raiders came out of the first half with a 7-7 tie. Although North Clayton retook the lead 14-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Riverdale was soon on its way down the field for another game-tying score.
That was when Riverdale quarterback Dequavious Martin threw the ball directly at North Clayton's Deaunte Trigger, who easily made the pick.
The game was officially clenched just three plays later when North Clayton's Dennis Johnson hit Trigger for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
"Dennis is a sophomore and has not played a varsity game yet," said Hackney. "I never saw him rattled, even when we were tied. He was a very cool kid. If we get him through this season, a lot of teams are going to be in trouble next year."
Johnson would ultimately finish 5-for-8- with 74 yards in his first varsity start for the Eagles.
Clarence Jackson rushed 125 yards on 22 attempts along with a touchdown, while LaDarrius Mathis rushed 124 on 9 attempts with two touchdowns.
Riverdale's Lamont Knox struggled with passing going, 0-for-2, but he led the Raiders in rushing with 92 yards on 12 attempts.
North Clayton was its own worst enemy, accruing 12 penalties for a cost of 105 yards, compared to Riverdale who gave up just 15 yards on two penalties.
From the very beginning, all eyes were on North Clayton star running back Jackson, which is exactly what Hackney was banking on when he called for freshman Mathis to be handed the ball on the second play.
With the defense going after Jackson, Mathis was free to charge 72 yards for a touchdown to give North Clayton the early lead.
"It feels great. I came from North Clayton middle school and everybody told me it was going to be a whole other level when I got to high school," said Mathis. "Everything changed but me. I'm going to do my thing regardless."
Sandaly Traore kicked the extra point to make it a 7-0 game.
North Clayton's defense was quickly able to reclaim possession after just four downs, but before the Eagles could get back within scoring range, they fumbled the ball away to the Raiders.
Riverdale took control of the ball just as the first quarter bled into the second.
With 73 yard between the line of scrimmage and the end zone, Riverdale quarterback Lamont Knox broke through the defense for a run that narrowly edged Mathis' touchdown for longest single scoring play of the first half.
The extra kick was solid, and the fans at Southern Crescent stadium had themselves a tie game.
The Eagles and Raiders tightened up in the third quarter. Although less turnovers occurred, neither team was able to gain significant ground before having to punt the ball away.
North Clayton finally broke the 7-7 tie just in time for the fourth quarter to start, when Mathis ran the ball in for his second touchdown.
After North Clayton's Trigger intercepted Martin's pass, he caught a ball from his own quarterback, Johnson, to score another touchdown for North Clayton.
The Eagles went for two points, but Johnson's pass attempt fell short.
When Riverdale regained the ball, Knox was back behind center, but he too fell victim to Trigger's interception ability.
North Clayton's final touchdown was scored with less than five minutes to go in the game, as Jackson cut through the middle with just five yards to go.
Jackson cut right, and found just enough open space to slip into the end zone.
After a big first varsity game, Mathis was sent to the sidelines with an arm injury. Mathis went to the hospital after the game to assess his injury.
"Hopefully I'll be ready in two weeks," he said.