Derrick Mahone
In his second season at the helm, Riverdale is off to a 4-1 start as the Raiders prepare to play No. 10 Griffin on Friday.

Derrick Mahone In his second season at the helm, Riverdale is off to a 4-1 start as the Raiders prepare to play No. 10 Griffin on Friday.

This week marks the midpoint of the football season, which has seen some compelling and surprising moments. There have been a number of big performances by players and teams and late-game heroics.

Best Performances

Cooper has special game

In Riverdale’s 28-14 win at then-ranked Grady, senior Ti’Keem Cooper returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. The diminutive tailback had a 92-yarder in the win over Grady. He also had a 74-yard later in the game. In the first two games of the season, Cooper has three kickoff returns for scores including an 88-yard against Drew on the game’s opening kickoff in the season opener.

Custis big game

With some of his other talented teammates stepping up this season, Lovejoy running back Travis Custis has not had to carry a big load for the Wildcats. But when he is called upon, the preseason all-state player usually comes through. In the Region 2-AAAAAA opener against Druid Hills last week, he had a 220-yard rushing performance. It only took 11 carries for the accomplishment, which included two touchdown runs.

Atkinson burns Eagle’s Landing

One of the big question marks about the Jonesboro offense coming into the season centered around first-year starter Mario Atkinson. Could the junior be poised enough to get the ball to his talented teammates? In a win over Eagle’s Landing two weeks ago, Atkinson gave confirmed that he is more than capable. He passed for a career-high 281 yards and four touchdowns.

Magwood breakout game

Kamhad Magwood has been the perfect compliment to follow running back Ti’Keem Cooper. In the Raiders’ win over Eagle’s Landing last week, he had a breakout game. The senior rushed for a team-leading 134 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries. He averaged 10.3 yards per carry in the win at Southern Crescent Stadium. Among the four touchdowns was 45-yarder as the Raiders offense amassed 413 yards on 49 plays and seven touchdowns.

Metts unselfish performance

The junior running back played a big part in Drew’s 14-6 win over Starr’s Mill last week. He had nine carries for 64 yards, which included two crucial carries on the game-clinching drive. But it was the block for teammate’s Lester Knauls 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal that was most spectacular play in the road win.

There has been a lot of action to retain in the first half of the season. We have learned a lot about the teams and players in the county.

The Clayton News Daily staff has been watching and taking notes. Now it’s time to reflect on what we’ve learn so far.

1. The move to Class AAAAAA hasn’t hurt Lovejoy

At one point during the season, the Wildcats were ranked in the Associated Press poll. The only blemish on the Wildcats record is a 14-7 loss at Colquitt County in the second game of the season. During that non-region contest against the South Georgia power, the Wildcats had two touchdowns called back. It seemed on that night the Wildcats were their own worse enemy with several penalties in the hostile environment.

Lovejoy has compiled a 4-1 record with classification wins over East Coweta, Alpharetta and Druid Hills. The usual stars of Travis Custis, Alejandro Bennifield, Arshad Jackson, Zane Fields and Veion Robinson have shines this season.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats look poised to win their third region championship as the dominant team in Region 2-AAAAAA.

2. Riverdale has learned to close games

Aside from a shellacking at Dutchtown, the Raiders are now winning the close games that seemed to slip away last season. After opening with wins over county foes North Clayton and Drew, Riverdale upset a then-ranked Grady team on the road with some spectacular special teams play.

However, the Raiders got a reality check after cracking the top 10 rankings for the first time since 2005 against Dutchtown. With a chance to make a big statement, the Raiders were defeated 38-0 on the road.

With a date against No. 10 Griffin on Friday at Tara Stadium, the Raiders have a shot at redeeming themselves.

To do so, Riverdale must tighten its defense, which has given up at least 30 points in the last two weeks in a loss to Dutchtown (38-0) and a win over Eagle’s Landing (52-36).

3. Jarrett Laws is building something special at Drew

In 2009, Laws left a comfortable situation at nearby Mount Zion High to build a program from scratch. During the first two seasons, the Titans struggled with growing pains as the school looked towards the future. With no senior class its first year on the varsity level, Laws team went 2-8 on the Class AAA level.

Last season, the Titans were 7-4 and advanced to the first round of the playoffs.

Drew opens its subregion schedule against winless Forest Park on Thursday. The remaining schedule looks favorable with a Nov. 2 date against Union Grove appearing to be the only obstacle to stand in the Titans way of clinching a first place in the subregion.

4. Morrow and Forest Park have much work to do

Morrow snapped an 11-game losing streak in the second week of the season with a win over Forest Park. The Mustangs have only mustered 30 points in the first five games. Morrow is idle this week with a date against No. 10 Lovejoy on Oct. 12 at Twelve Oaks Stadium.

Forest Park’s only win last season was against Morrow, and that game has now past. The Panthers have only scored 13 points in the first games of the season, and now subregion play begins Thursday at Drew.

Of the remaining games, only Mundy’s Mill and Mount Zion are also winless.

It appears that coach Leroy Foster (Morrow) and Don Williams (Forest Park) has a lot more work to do to make the teams competitive again.

5. Jonesboro has found its quarterback

For the second straight season, the Cardinals have had to break in a new quarterback. Last season’s starter Cedric Nettles is now on scholarship at Tennessee-Chattanooga, so the coaching staff turned to Mario Atkinson. The junior has not disappointed so far as the No. 7 Cardinals continue to be a force in the region.

Over the last two games, Atkinson has mature in his performance and leadership among a talented senior receiving corps that includes Div. I prospects Cameron Sutton and Taurean Ferguson.

He has learned to spread the wealth among those two alone with Dereon London and running back Patrick Petty.

In the last two weeks, Atkinson has completed 65 percent of his passes for 476 yards and seven touchdowns. He has distributed the ball to his talented skill position teammates.

If Atkinson can continue to mature, the Cardinals could be in for a long playoff run.