RCHS Bulldogs: Clarke Pitches Shut Out in Conyers

— On a cool, drizzly Friday evening in Conyers, one football team was making preparations for the postseason, while the other was headed in the opposite direction. Quenshaun Watson and Jalani Payne combined for four rushing touchdowns and the Gladiators’ defense held Rockdale to 77 total yards in a 44-0 victory in Region 8-AAAA play. The Gladiators, who won their seventh consecutive game and moved to 8-1, will try to knock off unbeaten Flowery Branch next weekend with a top-two playoff spot, and possible Region 8-AAAA championship on the line.

Rockdale’s woes continued as the Bulldogs lost for the eight consecutive time and head into next weekend’s season finale at Habersham Central trying to stop multi-talented quarterback Kevin Ellison and avoid the school’s third nine-loss season since 2004.

"We usually play pretty good up in Hab (and) Hab's got that quarterback that's unreal. Maybe we can figure out ways to stop him," said Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge.

It took Clarke only six plays to take the first lead of the game and begin its dominance over Rockdale. On the Gladiators’ first offensive possession, Watson and Payne combined for 46 yards on five carries, the last of which Watson took for a 14-yard touchdown. Clarke’s second drive stalled at the Rockdale 21, but Noah Welch had plenty of leg on the first of his three field goals, from 35 yards, that put the visitors up 10-0. Quarterback Cameron Johnson took a few possessions to get the passing game going, but the sophomore completed three of four passes on a touchdown drive that culminated with a 17-yard scoring strike to Torey Gartrell. A Rockdale fumble, recovered by Javion Hemphill, allowed Clarke to make it 24-0 at halftime when Johnson was perfect on a pair of passes and Watson scored un-touched from a yard out.

Payne scored two quick, 15-yard touchdowns in the early part of the second half. The junior scooted in the end zone on the fifth play from scrimmage of the third, then after Alan Miller fell on a Rockdale fumble, Payne scored again to put Clarke up 38-0.

"Effort's never been a question with our kids, we haven't had any problems with effort all year. Mid-way through second quarter, 10-0, we just couldn't get anything going offensively," Etheridge said. "It's no excuse to give up that many points."

While Clarke was piling on the points, the Bulldogs offense again had its problems. Rockdale, which in nine games has scored just 90 points, collected 26 total yards and one first down in the first half. Rockdale lost four fumbles, three during a sloppy second half.