ATHENS - Clarke Central's ability to come up with the big play and convert in the red zone proved pivotal in the Gladiators' 21-0 win over Apalachee in Region 8-AAAA action Friday night at Billy Henderson Stadium.
For Apalachee (2-1 overall, 2-1 region), it was failure to produce in that same red zone that eventually cost the Wildcats any chance at winning the contest. Three trips inside the Clarke Central 20 produced no points and spelled the end of the night for Apalachee.
Meanwhile, Clarke Central (3-1, 3-1) ran the ball with efficiency and found the passing game as the difference maker en route to the win. Throwing the ball only 12 times, quarterback John Wilson completed eight for 148 yards and three of those passes found the end zone.
Apalachee actually had a great chance to break on top right out of the gate. Seven plays took the Wildcats down to the Gladiators' 19, but the drive stalled and John Livesay's 40-yard field goal sailed wide right.
Then the defenses held firm until the second quarter when Clarke Central got rolling with a six-play, 83-yard drive that was capped off by Wilson's first touchdown pass of the night to Dimitri Holmes from 27 yards out. Two minutes later after a three-and-out by the Wildcats, the Gladiators were on the board again when Wilson found Paris Allen on a 22-yard toss.
That sent Clarke Central to the locker room with a 14-0 lead and momentum clearly wearing the red and gold. But Apalachee showed some fight and twice recovered Clarke Central fumbles inside Gladiators' territory only to watch both chances go by the wayside - once on downs at the 18 and the second on a fumble at the 9.
Clarke Central put the game away midway through the fourth quarter on Wilson's third TD pass of the evening when he hit Reggie Battle on a 3-yard toss.
"(Clarke Central) had their guys ready and I didn't have our guys ready," said a dejected Apalachee head coach Shane Davis after the game. "We didn't play with emotion and that's my fault. We got down there early and shot ourselves in the foot. So we couldn't get any momentum and then got behind. And we were just never able to get anything going offensively."
Battle paced the Clarke Central rushing attack with 112 yards on 20 carries as the Gladiators accumulated 176 yards on the ground.
Christian Hoard led Apalachee with 98 yards rushing. John Ansley, who led the Wildcats with 64 yards in the first half, didn't touch the ball in the second half after aggravating his back in the first 24 minutes of action.
Apalachee could only muster 25 of passing offense, completing just two passes.
Clarke Central 21, Apalachee 0
Clarke Central: Dimitri Holmes 27 pass from John Wilson (Noah Welch kick) 2:30
Clarke Central: Paris Allen 22 pass from Wilson (Welch kick) :24
Clarke Central: Reggie Battle 3 pass from Wilson (Welch kick) 4:51