LILBURN - The Berkmar Patriots have never made it to the playoffs three consecutive years, but with a 40-14, Region 8-AAAAA win over South Gwinnett on Friday, they took a huge step in achieving that goal.
With a win over Grayson next week the Patriots are in.
Berkmar head coach Wendell Early knows it will be tough but is very confident his team can get the job done.
"These kids have really overachieved," Early said. "I am so proud of them. It would have been real easy to fold after the way we had to start the region schedule. It won't be easy. Grayson is a good team."
With a great defensive effort, led by Kevin Minter's three sacks, Berkmar (4-5, 3-3) dominated the Comets most of the game despite the offense losing five fumbles and South recovering two onside kicks late in the game.
The Patriots jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their first possession, going 63 yards on four plays. The score came on the first of several successful screen passes on the night from T.J. Smith to Isiah Jupiter, who took it in for the touchdown.
Clark had 106 yards rushing on 15 carries and one score and Jupiter led the team in receiving with four catches for 45 yards and one TD reception. Jupiter also had an 82-yard interception return for a score late in the game to put an end to any comeback hopes the Comets had.
Berkmar got a break on its next drive when a bad snap forced punter David Gutierez to scramble but South was called for a personal foul facemask, giving the Patriots a first down. The next play Clark fumbled but the Comets could not capitalize, coming up short on a 52-yard field goal attempt.
Berkmar fumbled the ball away on two of its next three drives but the Patriot defense held strong and South was forced to punt, but missed a field goal from 31 yards out.
Berkmar got the ball to start the second half and wasted no time marching 67 yards on eight plays capped off by a 16-yard TD run by Clark. The highlight of the drive was when Berkmar lined up to punt and snapped the ball to Alex Brown, who picked up six yards and a big first down to keep the drive alive.
Smith scored the first of two rushing TDs from one yard out with 3:41 to play in the third quarter after Jarrett Thomas recovered a South fumble at the Comets' 1-yard line.
His second came after Mario Arnold picked off a David Johaningmeier pass at the South 43-yard line. After two more Clark runs and two more screen passes to Jupiter, Smith scored on a quarterback draw from 11 yards out to give the Patriots a commanding 26-0 lead with 39 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Berkmar only ran three more offensive plays the rest of the game as South made a strong push in the fourth quarter.
Zach BoBo scored on a 32-yard run and Cole Fortner recovered another Berkmar fumble in the end zone for the Comets (2-7, 1-5).
But the defense came up big again for the Patriots as Jerome Raymond returned a South fumble 58 yards for a score and Jupiter put the game on ice with his pick return for a TD.