From Staff Reports
Before the season, North Clayton coach Rodney Hackney predicted no team in Region 4-AAAA would go undefeated. Before a game had been played, Hackney believed no single team stood out as a dominant favorite to win the region.
Hackney stood by those words after North Clayton's 28-7 victory over Mt. Zion on Friday in a key region game, for as the Eagles wrapped up their win, the public announcer announced that Jonesboro (2-5, 2-5) had a 14-13 lead over first-place Lovejoy (7-0, 7-0) with six minutes left in their game.
Lovejoy eventually won to remain unbeaten, but the Wildcats' difficulties against Jonesboro underscored the marginal difference between the top teams in Region 4-AAAA.
"I'll say it again, I don't think anybody's going to go undefeated," Hackney said. "Lovejoy's kind of proved me wrong a little bit, but I really think we're all evenly matched."
Indeed, Lovejoy needed overtime to beat North Clayton (6-1, 6-1) on September 9, and North Clayton needed overtime to beat Tri-Cities (5-3, 5-3) on October 8.
Against Mt. Zion (5-2, 5-2), who was without star running back Quartterrio Morgan, the Eagles held a slim 14-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, before getting two big plays from running back Michael Ross to seal the win.
"Tonight was our night," Hackney said, "but if we played them again tomorrow, it might be the opposite score. It's just a matter of who's on that night."
The entertainment value of the region has been high. There's been two overtime games and five more decided by a touchdown or less, and there could be more to come.
Four games remain with region standing implications: Banneker at Mt. Zion; Lovejoy at Creekside; Creekside at North Clayton; and Mt. Zion at Tri-Cities.
Which means Hackney could still be right.
"Coaches don't really like thrill-seekers," Hackney said. "I think the fans do. We kind of go with the flow."
SLOW STARTS: That Mt. Zion trailed 14-0 at halftime was only the most recent halftime deficit the Bulldogs faced. Friday night's sluggish first-half performance was only the latest.
Mt. Zion trailed against Creekside, but made a spirited comeback to win. The Bulldogs trailed 21-0 at the half against Lovejoy two weeks ago, then found their offense before losing 29-20.
"We've got to figure out a way to come off the bus ready to compete," Mt. Zion coach Jamie Aull said. "Continually digging yourself a hole in the first and second quarter -- you're not going to win a lot of football games that way. We've got to get to the drawing board and figure out how to get these guys ready to play from play one."
STAYING FOCUSED: Keeping with the postgame tradition at Eagle's Landing Christian, both teams gathered at the midfield for a prayer.
Just before the prayer, Landmark Christian coach Kenny Dallas offered some encouraging words and a challenge to the undefeated ELCA team that just dismantled his team 49-3 in a Region 5-A South contest.
"Stats are for losers," Dallas said. "You all are a special group and you should go ahead and make this (state championship) run. Don't worry about stats or who is getting the glory."
With an array of talented skill players, Dallas said that ELCA is a "very special" team that could challenge for the Class A title. But said they have to know worry about who is scoring or making the big plays.
"Generally, great teams mess things up from the inside," Dallas said. "It is usually not the other opponent, but guys worrying about stats. I just encouraged them that a house divided can't stand is what Jesus said. They need to make a good run, because you don't play on teams like this every year."
DROPPED PASS?: Most of his ELCA teammates and coaches couldn't believe their eyes Friday when wide-out Christian Reeves dropped a pass.
With an open field in front of him, the senior dropped his first pass of the season. When he got to the sidelines, he heard the ribbing.
"I'm never going to live that one down," said Reeves, who has committed to play at Virginia Tech next season.
For the game, Reeves had two receptions for 40 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown receptions. On the series after the dropped pass, he scored his first rushing touchdown on a 45-yard run as the Chargers cruised to a 49-3 win.
"I was surprised because he doesn't drop any," Chargers quarterback Aaron Spratlin chuckled. "We have given him a hard time about it. We will kid him some more."