Games to watch: Jefferson-Clarke meet early in key Region 8 contest

Although the schools are less than 20 miles away from each other, Clarke Central and Jefferson had never played football until last season. Clarke has always been in a higher classification and Jefferson had played in a smaller classification until it got booted up when the GSHA increased the multiplier it imposed on city schools during the last reclassification.

Jefferson won the first meeting 17-7 in Athens and went on to win the Region 8 championship. The two schools will kickoff league play on Friday, this time in Jefferson, and the stakes are high once again. This matchup could wind up determining who will get the top seed from Region 8.

Jefferson is 4-0 and ranked No. 5 in the AJC’s top-10. The Dragons have already beaten a pair Class 6A teams (Alpharetta and St. Pius) and pounded rival Oconee County 44-7 in their last meeting.

Clarke Central is 3-1 and ranked No. 10. The Gladiators also own a win over Oconee County and last week survived on the road to beat South Forsyth in overtime. Clarke’s only loss was a 24-7 setback to Class 6A No. 1 Gainesville.

Jefferson, coached by Travis Noland, features the No. 1 prospect in the state in Sammy Brown, a two-way standout at running back and linebacker, where he will play in college. Brown has rushed for 491 yards and 12 touchdowns and a team-high 43 tackles and one interception.

Clarke Central, coached by David Perno, is led offensively by Corey Watkins Jr., who has rushed for 460 yards and four touchdowns, and Kendrick Curry, who has rushed for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Transfer quarterback Chase Berrong has been a good addition, throwing for 229 yards and three touchdowns.

While the winner of this game is assured of nothing, a victory will go a long way in a very balanced league that’s loaded with solid teams.

Competition in Region 8 began last week and Winder-Barrow (4-1) got a leg up in the race by beating Loganville.

Another big game this week will be Eastside at Flowery Branch, two other contenders for the playoffs. Eastside (2-2) was beaten last week by Ola in a game that remained close until the fourth quarter. Flowery Branch (2-2) was beaten by Lambert. Eastside won last year’s game, the first between the two schools, 34-14, in Covington.

Flowery Branch quarterback Josh Oliver has thrown for 722 yards and six touchdowns and Malik Dryden leads the team with 437 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Jeremiah Ware (18 catches, 19.2 average, three touchdowns) and Seth Larson (15 catches, 15.3 yards, two touchdowns) are the top targets.

Eastside’s running game is led by Anquez Cobb (336 yards, four touchdowns) and Jayden Barr (197 yards, five touchdowns). Quarterback Payton Shaw has thrown for 301 yards and one touchdown.

In other games this week:

Cedartown at Dalton: Dalton continues its revival with a 4-0 start. The Catamounts knocked off rival Rockmart two weeks ago and last week hammered Class 7A Lassiter by 36. Cedartown is another regional rival in a series that dates back to 1925. But Dalton has lost the last four meetings and was embarrassed 43-9 a year ago when Cedartown was ranked No. 1.

Dalton has been successful on offense behind veteran quarterback Ethan Long and a running back by committee approach led by Adriel Hernandez and Bubba Tanner, who is also a receiving threat. The Catamounts return their offensive line, which has made it easier to replace 2,000-yard rusher Tyson Greenwade.

Tucker vs. Stephenson (Hallford Stadium): The two prominent DeKalb County schools began playing in 2012 and have met every year except the 2020 COVID season. Stephenson leads the series 5-3 and has won the last three meetings, including 20-14 in 2022. Tucker (2-2) has lost two straight games. The Tigers are led offensively by running back Jordan McCoy, who has rushed for 567 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Ware County at Bainbridge: The No. 1-ranked Gators (3-1) took last week off after losing to Class 4A No. 1 Benedictine. Bainbridge, ranked No. 5 in Class 4A, is the fourth ranked team that Ware has faced this season. Ware County won last year’s game 22-16, bouncing back from a 16-0 deficit.

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