The Heritage Patriots dropped their third game of the season on the road Friday night to Clarke Central, giving up 20 first quarter points to the Gladiators in their second region loss of the year at Billy Henderson Stadium.
Clarke Central's Jamonte Smith fielded the opening kickoff and sped down the field for a 95-yard touchdown.
Running back Jaqua Daniels found the end zone on a 2-yard run to cap Clarke Central’s second offensive possession. Then quarterback Cameron Johnson, who finished 7 of 16 for 85 yards, threw a 25-yard rope to receiver Austin Johnson for a touchdown.
Drico Browner's interception in the second quarter led to Gladiators Coach Ahren Self reaching into his bag of tricks when the offense sputtered.
Kicker Matt Ward trotted onto the field to line up for a 48-yard field goal attempt. The fake attempt turned into Daniels finding linebacker Cedric Armstrong for a 35-yard gain, which set up a 19-yard field goal from Ward.
Austin Johnson’s touchdown would be the last time the Gladiators found the end zone.
The Patriots (4-3, 3-2) held Clarke Central to negative rush yards in the second half and Johnson complete just two passes for 19 yards.
“They’re very physical up front,” Self said. “They loaded the box on us. They made some great adjustments at half time.”
The Patriots, who gained points on a 34-yard field goal from Austin Kulp in the first half, and the Gladiators traded punts in the second half and the teams combined to turn the ball over on downs three times.
The Gladiators’ defense, which also forced a second-half fumble, held Heritage quarterback Ryan Sutton to just seven completions on 20 attempts in the second half, all for 29 yards.
The Gladiators, who host Gainesville (6-1, 5-0) next Friday, gave up 93 rushing yards to C.J. Stone and Blade Reid. But Self said the defense’s second half performance was the difference.
Heritage faces Flowery Branch at home next week.