Class 5A blog: Clarke-Eastside face off in Region 8

Billy Henderson Stadium at Clarke Central received a facelift that included new field turf.

Credit: Jeff Hood

Credit: Jeff Hood

The Clarke Central football team is starting to live up to its high preseason expectations. The Gladiators continue to grow offensively and round into the sort of solid defensive club that was anticipated. And the improvements come just in time, since coach David Perno’s team faces one of its biggest Region 8 challenges this week in Eastside.

Clarke (3-2) lost back-to-back games against neighboring rival Oconee County, the No. 3 in Class 3A, and mighty Buford. But in two weeks of region play, Clarke Central has allowed only ten points and scored 66.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Perno said. “The defense is really starting to become what we thought they would be and our quarterback has shown a lot of growth and is making better decisions.”

The defense was helped by the decision to return Tyreon Millsap back to the safety position where he’s most comfortable. Khyle Cowan has flourished since being moved to inside linebacker and leads the team with 44 tackles, 30 of them solo stops. Kolbe Cooper is a big-time play maker on the line.

Depth is a strength on defense, too. Clarke has about 20 different players who can be comfortably rotated through on that side.

Quarterback William Robinson has thrown for 426 yards and William Richardson has rushed for 221 yards and five touchdowns. Receiver Jairus Mack has 13 catches, one for 70 yards, and averages 21.6 yards per reception

Eastside (4-1) has lost only to county rival Newton. The Eagles have a dominant running game that averages 259.4 yards per contest. Dallas Johnson (693 yards), Kenai Grier (193 yards) and Sincere Johnson (161 yards) lead a group that averages 6.9 yards per carry. The big offensive line features prospect Jalen Farmer, a 6-4, 300-pound junior who has already received an offer from Georgia Tech.

The Eagles are led defensively by seniors Trace Nicholson (6-1, 205) at linebacker and tackle Kevin Napier (6-4, 275). Eastside has allowed only one touchdown in each of the last two games after surrendering a season-high 31 in a win over county rival Alcovy.

Clarke Central leads the series 5-0, but the teams haven’t met since 2007.

The game will be the second played in the refurbished Billy Henderson Stadium on the Clarke Central campus. The visiting stands were improved and the playing surface was replaced with year-round sports turf.

Here are some of the other interesting games on Friday’s schedule.

Starr’s Mill at Northgate: Few schools are committed to the run like Starr’s Mill (4-1), which averages 232 yards on the ground. Devin Barnett leads the ground game with 464 yards and five touchdowns and Brandon Mathis, who has run for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Northgate (2-2) is led by quarterback James Paige, who is a two-way threat, and running back D.J. Reid, who ran for 265 yards in the win over Locust Grove. Bryan Bordeaux leads the Vikings on defense. Starr’s Mill leads the series 7-6 and won 28-0 in 2019.

St. Pius vs. Southwest DeKalb (Hallford Stadium): This game should help determine the Region 5 championship; it will certainly put the loser behind the eight ball. No. 10 St. Pius (3-1) brings an outstanding running attack; the Golden Lions still believe rushing the ball is important and Mason Benefield (309 yards, eight TDs) has been quite productive. SWD (1-1) showed great growth from its first game and put 29 points up against Lithonia. Quarterback Sadir Ryan and running back James Carswell have made strides toward filling in the gaps left by students who jumped ship. The two teams have only met four times, with St. Pius winning each, but they haven’t played since 2007.

Villa Rica at Chapel Hill: First place in Region 6 will be on the line when Chapel Hill (3-2) hosts Villa Rica (2-3). Chapel Hill is led by junior quarterback Komari Frye, who threw for 180 yards against North Springs and has 336 yards this season. Villa Rica has shown the ability to run and throw the ball with equal effectiveness. Villa Rica leads the series 5-3, but they have not played since 2015.

Cartersville at Cass: It’s been a while since Cass has played in such a meaningful game. The Colonels (5-0) are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. No. 4 Cartersville is 4-1. Stratton Tripp is the latest in a long line of outstanding quarterbacks to play at Cartersville and has thrown for 716 yards and seven touchdowns, with Devonte Ross (16 catches, 300 yards, four TDs) and Sam Phillips (23 catches, 245 yards, two TDs) the primary recipients. Quante Jennings has rushed for 341 yards and eight touchdowns. The Cass offense is led by freshman quarterback Devin Henderson, a 5-10, 175-pounder has thrown for close to 830 yards and eight touchdowns. The defense is led by team captain Elijah Harris, an undersized (5-9, 170 pounds) middle linebacker who was voted team captain because of his non-stop motor and leadership. Junior safety Mark Perdue had a growth spurt over the summer – he’s now 6-2, 200 pounds – and may be the hardest hitter on the team. The teams have been playing since 1956 – although they’ve not met since 2015 -- and Cartersville has won 41 of 46 meetings. The last Cass victory came in 2007.

Jonesboro at Woodward Academy: Jonesboro (3-0) faces its biggest challenge of the season against Region 3 favorite Woodward (2-3), winners of its last two games. Jonesboro needs a big game from dual-threat quarterback Chandrick Garner, who moved the offense in last week’s 7-6 win over Banneker but threw four interceptions. He has quality receivers in Ahlik Booker, Nathaniel Adams and Marquis Dunn. Woodward quarterback Banks Snellings has thrown for 431 yards and two touchdowns and running back Damari Alston has rushed for 652 yards and nine touchdowns. Woodward has won all six previous meetings, but the teams haven’t played since 1997.

Chamblee at Dunwoody (North DeKalb): The annual “Battle for the Golden Spike” has been claimed by Dunwoody for the last six years. Chamblee’s last victory came in back-to-back-seasons (2012-13). Chamblee (1-0) won its opener 27-14 over the Georgia Force and Brayson Seaborne rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Dunwoody (0-2) is led by quarterback Davis Ledoyen, who has more than 4,000 career passing yards and has never lost to the Bulldogs.

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