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Jonesboro finds groove to beat North Clayton

Photo by Jerry Jackson
North Clayton running back Eric Smith (24) flips to the ground after getting tackled by Jonesboro's Keith Kent on Friday at Southern Crescent Stadium.

Photo by Jerry Jackson North Clayton running back Eric Smith (24) flips to the ground after getting tackled by Jonesboro's Keith Kent on Friday at Southern Crescent Stadium.

RIVERDALE — For a while Friday night at Southern Crescent Stadium, it was hard to tell which team was winless and which was the seventh-best in the state. As the game progressed, however, No. 7 Jonesboro seized control to get a well-earned 26-8 victory over North Clayton.

“North Clayton is a good team,” said Jonesboro head coach Tim Floyd. “When they came out and hit us in the mouth, I saw our guys keep fighting until we got into a groove.”

The game started out for North Clayton (0-6, 0-2) much like the season has thus far. The Eagles muffed the opening kickoff, turning the ball over to Jonesboro (5-1, 1-1) at the North Clayton 5-yard line. Just three plays later, Patrick Petty was into the end zone with a 1-yard touchdown run, his first of three on the night.

Undaunted, North Clayton regrouped and began to unleash its rushing attack. Krystopher Weems and La’Darrius Mathis found holes in the Cardinals defense as the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage. Mathis eventually got loose for a 22-yard run that put North Clayton up 8-6 with 4:36 left to play in the first quarter. Weems finished the night with 10 carries for 56 yards and Mathis had 14 carries for 52.

That would be the extent of the Eagles’ excitement. Jonesboro’s ball-control passing attack started to take over. Mario Atkinson delivered a second quarter, 7-yard touchdown pass to Petty for a 12-8 Jonesboro halftime lead. Atkinson finished the game 23 of 36 for 239 yards with a touchdown and interception. Petty, one of seven targets Atkinson found, finished with six catches for 79 yards.

“We just tried to come in tonight, not looking at their record because we knew they were better than their record,” Petty said. “We came out slow in the first half. We went into the halftime, made the adjustments and came back out and got it together.”

Jonesboro’s defense then held the North Clayton ground attack to 11 yards in second half and Cameron Sutton and Petty added touchdown runs of 4 and 2 yards, respectively, as the Cardinals pulled away.

North Clayton is now facing its worst start to a season since 1991. “It’s all mental,” said North Clayton head coach Max Wiltz. “In spots, we have breakdowns. I don’t know if its senior leadership. I don’t know if its conditioning. ... We’re making crucial mistakes in crucial moments. I don’t know how to correct that.”

The game was the second Region 4-AAAA Division B game for both squads and each has three subregion games left. North Clayton is in must-win territory as it visits Upson-Lee next Friday before facing Griffin and Spalding.

“To us, every game is must win,” Wiltz said. “Our kids have to realize every snap counts and I don’t think we understand that yet.”

Jonesboro has a week off before hosting Spalding on Oct. 19.