Photo by Derrick Mahone
North Clayton football coach Max Wiltz said the Eagles “don’t want to go down to Griffin and get embarassed.”
As North Clayton coach Max Wiltz was settling in on the sideline at the beginning of last Friday’s Upson-Lee game, an unidentified player whisked by him with a special message.
“True story,” Wiltz said. “One of our kids, he just ran past me and said, ‘Coach we’re not going to lose this game,’ and he kept running.”
Wiltz still can’t tell you the name of the player who made the bold prediction. What he can say is the statement shows that North Clayton may have gotten a little of its swagger from a 7-4 season back in them.
And despite the 0-6 start before beating Upson-Lee 19-14, the second-year coach believes that his Eagles still have some soaring to do.
“Our guys are excited and focused,” he said. “They practiced this week with a lot of enthusiasm. They don’t want to go down to Griffin and get embarrassed. We’re loose and excited and ready to go. There was a sense of urgency. We know what’s at state.”
And it’s more than you might think.
Despite being 1-6, North Clayton — with just three games remaining — still can finish in the top four of its region and can still qualify for the play in game to the state playoffs.
Though it’s a bit of a long shot, standout running back La’Darius Mathis says that last weeks win gave him and his teammates the shot in the arm they needed to finish strong, even if no one else thinks they can.
“I’ve seen all this week the way we’ve prepared,” Mathis said. “We’ve worked hard, stayed out and had longer practices. I feel our confidence. Everybody’s sleeping on North Clayton, but we still can make it to the playoffs, no matter who we play.”
Mathis has been the leading rusher for the Eagles since busting out with a 156-yard rushing performance in their season-opening loss to Riverdale.
He’s been a bright spot on a North Clayton offensive unit that is next to last in Region 4B-AAAA in points production, averaging just a shade over 13 points per game.
Perhaps his highlight performance came in North Clayton’s 15-14 loss to No. 8 Stockbridge on September 21. Mathis churned out 130 yards on the ground and two scores — one of which pulled the Eagles to just one point behind the Tigers with 34 seconds left in the game.
But Mathis said he would trade in all of his yards and all of his stats if it could transform some of North Clayton’s losses into wins.
“As a team and as a captain I’d rather win and get a (state championship) ring,” Mathis said. “I don’t care nothing about stats. I need a ring on my finger and to bring a state championship to North Clayton High School.”
Beating the ninth-ranked Griffin Bears at Griffin’s Memorial Stadium is no small task — even for teams that are clicking on all cylinders.
Stockbridge became the first Henry County team ever to beat Griffin three weeks ago in Memorial Stadium. And it’s been four years since a Clayton county squad came away from the Bears with a win.
The last team to do it? North Clayton.
And if you believe in degrees of separation type comparisons — the kind that say North Clayton who almost beat Stockbridge can beat Griffin because Stockbridge did — you may say that the Eagles have a legitimate shot to do it again tonight.
Wiltz said he’s watched Stockbridge-Griffin film twice, and admits that it gives him some hope.
“Stockbridge does some things similar to our offense,” Wiltz said. “And we feel like we’re just one step away from being outstanding on defense. We know that every facet of our game must be on point if we’re going to walk out of there with a win.”