ATHENS, Ga. — It was an instant classic in the Classic City.
After trailing by 10 points at the break, Clarke Central powered its way back and used a late touchdown to steal a 35-34 victory from Eastside at Billy Henderson Stadium. The victory improved the reigning Region 8-AAAAA champions to 4-2 on the season and 3-0 in region play, while the Eagles dropped to 4-2 and 2-1.
Facing a 24-14 deficit at halftime, Clarke Central came out composed for its first drive of the second half. The Gladiators methodically marched their way down the length of field, ultimately cashing in on a short rushing touchdown to pull within 24-21.
The score would remain that way until early in the fourth quarter, when Eastside senior quarterback Dayton Green found senior Grayson Malcom on the left side of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. The successful extra-point attempt pushed the Eagles’ advantage back out to double digits. They led 31-21 with 10:31 remaining.
Eastside appeared to have gathered up all momentum with the lengthy scoring drive.
But Clarke Central’s Antonio Jewell had other plans.
Jewell set the Gladiators up in favorable position by returning the ensuing kickoff back to the Clarke Central 44-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, he took a handoff on a jet sweep and raced around the right side of the line for an 18-yard gain. On the very next play, he exposed busted coverage and made himself a wide-open target on the left side of the field.
Quarterback William Robinson lobbed up a pass to Jewell, who hauled it in and walked into the end zone for the score. Suddenly, Clarke Central’s deficit was back down to 31-28 with 10:05 remaining.
Eastside’s final points of the night came on a 30-yard field goal from the foot of junior kicker Rodney Williams at the 6:59 mark.
Clarke Central had an answer once again, this time plowing down the pitch before sophomore Felix Braddy Jr. barreled his way into the end zone for a 2-yard rushing score. Braddy’s touchdown gave the Gladiators their first lead of the second half at 35-34 with just 3:47 left in regulation.
The Eagles would attempt to produce a game-winning drive, but their efforts came up short. A fourth-and-long situation forced a 51-yard field goal attempt, which landed in the end zone with just 21 ticks of the clock left.
Clarke Central took possession, assumed victory position and kneeled out the clock.
Eastside delivered the first blow of the night. On the Eagles’ first drive, senior running back Sincere Johnson broke loose and raced to the house for a 33-yard touchdown just over two minutes into the first quarter.
Clarke Central scored on its own first drive, as Robinson hit tight end Rio Foster for a 7-yard score to tie the game midway through the period.
Braddy gave the Gladiators a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter with a short rushing touchdown, but powerful touchdown runs from Eastside’s Kenai Grier and Dallas Johnson set the Eagles up with a 21-7 advantage.
In the final moments of the first half, Williams drilled a 42-yard field goal to send the Eagles into the locker room with a 24-14 lead on the road.