The Clarke Central Gladiators (5-5) were assured of a playoff spot no matter the outcome when they entered Waters-Wilkins Stadium at Cedar Shoals High School last night to face their crosstown rival the Cedar Shoals Jaguars (4-6). That was the last thing on their mind as they knew they could not lose to the Jaguars were playing for only pride and bragging rights as they had been eliminated a week earlier from the playoffs.
Cedar Shoals started out the game playing like they wanted to send the Glad into the playoffs with a losing record while at least finishing .500 as the defense held on Central’s first possession. The Jags came right down the field scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run by Brandon Whitehead-a tight end by trade who had to play running back due to injuries to the leading rusher Adrian Washington, and the Jaguars had an early 7-0 lead.
The Gladiators would answer that drive by driving themselves for a score to knot the game at 7 after a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Johnson to Denzel Maxey capping a 12-play 56-yard drive with 1:08 left in the first quarter.
After the Gladiators held the Jags on a fourth down on their next possession they went 75 yards in 8 plays scoring on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Johnson to Amir Williams to take a 14-7 lead with 7:11 left int he fourth quarter. Cedar Shoals would move it again on their next drive before Brandon Whitehead fumbled and the Glad recovered and the first half ended 14-7 with the Glad leading.
Cedar Shoals would strike first int he second half after Central was forced to kick again after a punt that would have had the Jags pinned inside their own 20 at the 19, instead on the second attempt the Glad decided to fake it and it failed giving Cedar the ball on the Central 48. Darius Jordan would lead the Cedar offense again directly to the end zone on just 3 plays. After a 32-yard run by Jordan he would hit Chris Middlebrooks on a 15-yard fade pattern in the right corner to pull the Jags to within one at 14-13 after the extra point was blocked.
Central again would come right back and answer with a 5-play 61-yard drive capped with another Cameron Johnson touchdown pass and he found Amir Williams again from 32-yards out and a 21-13 Gladiator lead going in to the fourth quarter.
Central would tack on another touchdown with Jelani Payne scoring on the ground from a yard out to stretch the lead to 28-13 with 8:41 left in the contest. Cedar Shoals would not go away however. After Jordan fumbled it away on their next possession, the defense held and Cedar would use it to score when Jordan found Middlebrooks again from 30-yards out to pull the Jags to within eight points, 28-20, with 2:28 left.
Clarke Central was unable to move it and had to punt it back to Cedar Shoals with 1:17 remaining and 70 yards and a two-point conversion away from tying the game. The drive started good with Jordan hitting Quentin Hall for 12 yards on the first play but personnel issues caused clock management problems after that and the Jags would fall short for the fifth consecutive time to Clarke Central.
Cameron Johnson finished 9-14 158 yards passing with 3 touchdowns, Amir Williams had 75 yards and two touchdown receptions, while Jelani Payne went for 110 yards on the ground for Clarke Central.
Darius Jordan finished 11-18 170 yards two touchdowns and an interception passing, Brandon Whitehead was a yard shy of a hundred-yard rushing for 99-yards and a touchdown while Chris Middlebrooks had four receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
Clarke Central will travel to East Paulding (10-0) next week in the first round of the state playoffs.