Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith. Rockdale's Brandon Harris catches a pass during the Bulldogs' victory over Loganville earlier this season. Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge feels tough region games, like the one his squad had with the Red Devils, are the reason for his team's and the region's overall playoff success this year.
It's been nearly two years since the Rockdale High School football team played one of the biggest games in the program's long history. That Dec. 4 night, the Bulldogs traveled to Athens and were shut out by Clarke Central in the first state semifinal game in school history.
The Gladiators would go on to lose the state final to Sandy Creek and were an 11-win, playoff team again in 2010 before starting 7-1 this season.
Rockdale, on the other hand, has gone in the opposite direction. The Bulldogs followed that historic season with a disappointing, 4-6 campaign a year ago and, at 1-7 heading into Friday's meeting with Clarke at Reid Stadium, are headed for consecutive losing seasons for the third time in the last nine seasons.
For Rockdale, it's been a season of struggles on the offensive side of the ball. In eight games, the Bulldogs have scored just 90 points (11 per game) and been held under 20 points in six of their eight contests. Rockdale's current, seven-game losing streak is the longest winless spell the program has suffered since dropping six consecutive games from 2006-2007 and the first seven-game slide since 1994.
Despite the skid, the outlook has been brighter of late. During the first four games of the streak, Rockdale was beaten by an average of more than 33 points, but in the last three, which includes a heartbreaking, 22-21 loss to Madison County in week eight, the Conyers school has been beaten by an average of just nine points.
For Clarke, the winning continues. The Gladiators blew a 14-0 lead to Heritage in week two but have rattled off six straight wins since, including last weekend's 55-20 win over Madison County. With next weekend's game against Class AAAA No. 5 Flowery Branch, which could decide if Clarke wins the Region 8-AAAA title for the second consecutive season or drops as low as the No. 3 seed, looming, the Gladiators, led by unsigned senior tailback Quenshaun Watson, will be looking to take care of slumping Rockdale this weekend.
Clarke has owned the all-time series, winning 10 of 13 regular season games (and the 2009 playoff game) since the teams began playing each other in 1988.