By Derrick Mahone
Clarence Jackson is use to making headlines for North Clayton, but this time it wasn't on the football field.
Jackson played a huge role in helping the Eagles to a 70-64 overtime win over visiting Jonesboro Tuesday night in a Region 4-AAAA contest.
The win, coupled with Stockbridge's loss, puts North Clayton in sole possession of first place in the region.
Jonesboro played the Eagles a lot tougher this time. In the first meeting, North Clayton cruised to a 54-26 win.
"It's hard to beat a team twice in one season," North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said.
With the win, North Clayton now has a four-game winning streak heading into Saturday's non-region game against rival Riverdale. The Eagles are now 14-2 overall and 7-2 in the region as Jonesboro fell to 8-9 and 6-4.
"We expected Jonesboro to be good this time," North Clayton senior guard Zach Bradley said. "We knew they would come to play."
The Cardinals had the lead for most of the game, with it becoming a see-saw battle late in the fourth quarter. Bradley, who finished with 16 points, hit a pair of free throws with 44 second left in regulation to tie the game at 58-58. Neither team could score the rest of the way to force overtime.
Jackson had only two points through the first three quarters, but scored five points each in the fourth quarter and overtime to help seal the win. He hit a jumper in the lane for the first basket in overtime as North Clayton never trailed.
The 6-foot-2 Jackson, who has committed to play football at Ole Miss this fall, led the state in rushing as he helped the school's football team reached the Class AAAA quarterfinals for the first time since the 1997 season.
"It was a team win," said Jackson, who finished with 12 points. "Once I saw the team step up, we all started clicking. We turned it on as one."
Jonesboro coach Daniel Maehlman wasn't happy after seeing his team blow a late lead. A win could have forced a three-way tie for first place between North Clayton, Stockbridge and Jonesboro. The Cardinals are the defending region champion, with this season's regular season champion getting an automatic berth into the state playoffs.
"Print this as big as you can that we have no heart," Maehlman said. "This game boiled to heart, and we have none. Near the end we didn't block out, didn't hit free throws and we didn't rotate on the backside. We lead the whole game, then they shot the ball and missed and got the rebound because we didn't block out. We stood there and watch them get the lead."
It was Jackson who rebounded the miss shot in regulation to force overtime.
Troup said his team spent most of Monday's practices working on situations like overtime and down by 13 points. It seemed to have paid off.
He said the team also learned from its 72-68 overtime win over Alcovy Friday.
"We have been in this situation before," Bradley said. "We knew what to do. We stayed focused and that is why we came out on top. We also have to give credit to Clarence because he stepped up. He is definitely the heart of our team and he brings a lot of intensity."
Jonesboro junior guard Rasham Suarez led all scorers with 26 points while teammate Myron Sallie came off the bench to contribute 17. Marcus Hunt and Bradley led North Clayton with 16 points each.
"This game boiled down to heart, and who wanted to win," Maehlman said. "Our guys don't care enough about the game. I have a group that doesn't care if they win. This was a huge region game and we didn't care."
North Clayton (girls) 65, Jonesboro 51: Essence Chenault scored a game-high 29 points to lead the Eagles to the region win. Teammate Miranda Cantrell added 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Jonesboro lead most of the game, but Ariele Thomas hit a pair fo free throws with 5:30 remaining in the third to give the Eagles the lead for good at 31-30. The game had three ties.
The Cardinals got 18 points from Jasmine Manning and Kierra Dennis added 16 as Jonesboro lost its third straight game.