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Clarke handles Heritage on gridiron

ATHENS - Heritage played much better defense in the second half than the first Friday at Clarke Central. Unfortunately, the Patriots offense was missing for most of the game.

The Patriots pitched a second-half shut out, though they themselves were held scoreless in the final 24 minutes, and the Conyers school couldn’t erase a large deficit in a 23-3 defeat in Region 8-AAAAA play at Billy Henderson Stadium.

Heritage (4-3, 3-2) had its two-game winning streak snapped against Clarke, and still hasn’t won in Athens since a one-point win in 2006. The loss also severely hurt the Patriots’ chances of passing Clarke (5-1, 4-0), which won its fifth consecutive game, for the region’s No. 3 seed.

Clarke led 23-3 at halftime, but both offenses went cold after returning from the locker rooms. Heritage, which outgained Clarke 236-202, got into Clarke territory twice, including to the 29 late in the third quarter, but quarterback Ryan Sutton threw four consecutive incompletions to turn the ball back over to the host Gladiators.

Clarke’s ofense was stymied throughout the second half, collecting just 43 total yards, and getting as far as the Heritage 37 midway through the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-five, quarterback Cameron Johnson came up just short on a sneak.

It turns out the Gladiators’ first half production was more than enough.

It took Clarke 14 seconds to take the lead for good and before 10 minutes had ticked off the first quarter, the Gladiators already had a 20-point cushion.

Jamonte Smith took the game’s opening kickoff and exploded for a 95-yard touchdown return, and after a three-and-out led to a Heritage punt, the Gladiators got to work on offense.

Jaqua Daniels carried four times for 31 yards on the hosts’ first offensive drive, including a 20-yard scamper to set up first-and-goal on the Heritage five. Daniels was rewarded for the long burst three players later, scoring from two yards, while getting a great lead block from fullback Baylor Ward, for a 13-0 lead.

The Heritage offense had just 30 total yards in the opening quarter, and the defense wasn’t much better. C.J. Stone picked up an nice, eight-yard run on first down, but the Patriots got little else after that and Clarke built on its lead. The Gladiators went 66 yards in just seven plays and Johnson completed 2-of-4 passes, including a pretty, 25-yard touchdown hook up with Austin Johnson that made it a 20-0 game with a little over two minutes left in the first.

Heritage’s most productive drive of the first 24 minutes led to the Patriots only first half points.

Sutton completed two passes for 16 yards and carried three times for 24 yards and got the Patriots to the Clarke 15. Clarke got a hand on Austin Kulp’s 32-yard field goal attempt, but the ball still snuck through the uprights to get Heritage to within 23-3 with 3:24 to play until halftime.

That was a rare productive offensive stretch for Heritage, which has been held to an average of just 12.5 points through seven games. Heritage did try a fake field goal on what turned out to be the final play of the first half, but Kulp was scrambling and his pass was intercepted by Zay Brown as the halftime buzzer sounded.

Clarke’s fake field goal worked, and on a fourth-and-10 from the Heritage 33 on the second play of the second quarter, Daniels hooked up with Cedric Armstrong for a 29-yard completion. That eventually led to Clarke’s final points of the night, a 19-yard field goal by Matthew Ward that pushed the advantage to 23-0.