RIVERDALE — Rodney Hackney’s return to the Riverdale sideline began with a rousing victory over North Clayton in the annual Southside Shootout. The Raiders ran away with a 39-0 win Friday night at Southern Crescent Stadium.

Sophomore quarterback Avaun Rucker battled a pre-game headache to throw four touchdowns in the win. Riverdale’s defense held North Clayton to less than 75 total yards, dominating up front with a defensive line led by senior Wykevious Thomas.

It was Hackney’s first game back as the head Raider since the early 2000’s.

“You can’t complain, it’s a rivalry,” Hackney said. “I knew (North Clayton) was young, but our kids wanted to get them back from last year. I think our kids wanted that. We went 1-9 last year, so we came out focused and did what we had to do. I give it up to my juniors and seniors who stepped up tonight.”

It was all Riverdale in the first half as they jumped out to a 33-0 lead after two quarters. Rucker threw two of his touchdown passes to Clemson commit Jaelyn Lay, while the other two went to Derwin Burgess Jr. and T.J. Moore.

“He had a migraine and he was kind of out of it and he had to focus through it,” Hackney said. “It scared me because after the first series I didn’t know if he was going to make it through. But, he did a great job of fighting through and showing some mental toughness.”

The Raiders landed the first punch of the game midway through the first half. A long touchdown run by Burgess Jr. was negated by a penalty, only for Phalon Daniels to cash in on his own 39-yard run later in the drive. A key conversion on third down from Rucker to Lay for 22 kept the drive alive.

Daquan Strozier gave the Raiders great field position on their next drive after he picked off North Clayton quarterback Courtney Colbert and returned the ball to the North Clayton 34-yard line. A few plays later, Rucker found a wide open Burgess Jr. over the middle for a 29-yard score and 14-0 lead.

It got worse for North Clayton early in the second quarter. A well-placed punt by Lay pinned the Eagles back on their own 6-yard line, and after a three-and-out, North Clayton’s punt only went 10 yards to the 13-yard line. Rucker found Lay two plays later for an 8-yard touchdown pass.

The Raiders added one more score before halftime. Rucker lofted a long touchdown pass to T.J. Moore for 44 yards, giving Riverdale a 33-0 halftime advantage. Riverdale out-gained North Clayton 200-18 in the first half.

“Those guys are good but I have to give my hat off to our defensive staff as well,” Hackeny said regarding his defense’s performance. “Coach (Max) Wilks has been with me since I’ve been coaching, the last 20 years he’s been my defensive coordinator. He got the best out of those guys. Wykevious is a top-notch player, Pearce Brown — those guys did a great job tonight.”

The game featured a running clock for the entire second half. Riverdale added another touchdown — a 9-yard pass from Rucker to Lay — to seal the blowout victory.

It was a important win for the Riverdale program. The Raiders lost to North Clayton last season to start a 1-9 campaign, which eventually led to the firing of head coach Terry Herrod. Hackney is hoping Friday’s win can jumpstart a bounce-back year, but still believes his team has a long way to go.

“We’ll see next week,” he said. “We knew they were young, it’s almost a 10th grade team. We’ll see next week. We’re not jumping the gun just yet.”

Riverdale will host Drew next Friday at Southern Crescent Stadium at 7:30 p.m. North Clayton will hit the road to take on Woodland at 7:30 p.m.

BOX SCORE

Riverdale 14 19 6 0 — 39

North Clayton 0 0 0 0 — 0

First Quarter

RHS: Daniels 37 run (Martinez PAT, 5:30)

RHS: Rucker 29 pass to Burgess Jr. (Martinez PAT, 1:49

Second Quarter

RHS: Daniels 1 run (Martinez PAT, 7:47)

RHS: Rucker 8 pass to Lay (PAT failed, 5:30)

RHS: Rucker 44 pass to Moore (2-point conversion failed, 3:44)

Third Quarter

RHS: Rucker 9 pass to Lay (PAT failed, 5:36)

Fourth Quarter

No Score

Luke Strickland is the sports editor of the Clayton News in Jonesboro and the Henry Herald in McDonough. He went to school at the University of Georgia.

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