By Derrick Mahone
If there was any concerns that North Clayton's offense would suffer from the graduation of last season's leading rusher Clarence Jackson, sophomore Ladarrius Mathis quickly provided an answer.
In the Eagles' 28-0 win over county rival Riverdale in a game billed as the Southside Classic, Mathis rushed for 120 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns Friday at Southern Crescent Stadium.
It was the fourth straight season that the Eagles have beaten Riverdale.
"He (Mathis) came out tipping at first, then I had to have a talk with him," North Clayton coach Rodney Hackney said. "I think it was some first game jitters. Ladarrius is small, but he is a hard runner. I thought the offensive line did a decent job."
Last season en route to a trip to the Class AAAA quarterfinals, the Eagles relied heavily on Jackson, who is now a freshman at Ole Miss. Jackson led the state in rushing with 1,954 yards and 31 touchdowns as the offensive main weapon.
Mathis said he is ready to fill the void left by Jackson, who was a first team all-state selection.
"Last year it was pretty much Clarence doing the work in the offense," Mathis said. "It is a new year and I got to fill those shoes. I want to take us back to state."
While there were several highlights for North Clayton, Hackney believes there is still a lot of room for improvement. The Eagles were stopped twice once on the Riverdale 12-yard line on a fumble by quarterback Dennis Johnson.
North Clayton's first drive of the game was stalled at the Raiders' 41 after Mathis was stopped on a fourth-and-one play.
"This was definitely a true first game," Hackney said. "There were a lot of little things we got to work on. I don't want to be too critical because we won, but we definitely haven't arrived yet. The goal is to progress each week."
Hackney was pleased after the effort after a lackluster showing in the team's scrimmage against Grady two weeks ago.
"We have a made a 100 percent improvement," he said. "I thought we showed a lot of discipline against Riverdale's Wing-T offense."
Eagles defensive coordinator Max Wiltz agreed.
"We got some holes to fill because we gave up a couple big plays, but we are happy with the shutout," he said.
Even the defense got in on the scoring when Brenton Hawkins returned an interception 49 yards for a score in the second quarter. North Clayton held the Raiders to only 115 total offensive yards.
"I'm happy with that defensive touchdown," Wiltz said. "It showed the defense is capable of producing some points. We just need to stay healthy."
This season, the teams in Region 4-AAAA play a 10-game region schedule to determine the playoff teams. Raiders coach Nick Davis said it is too early to panic.
"It is still a long season," Davis said. "The thing I'm most pleased is that the kids kept on fighting. We just need to improve on the little things. We just have to physically and mentally tough."