Clarke Central wins tough battle with Apalachee

WINDER -- Clarke Central had a one-man wrecking crew Friday night in Quenshaun Watson and the Gladiators rode the senior running back to a 37-28 win over Apalachee in a crucial Region 8-AAAA game at R. Harold Harrison Stadium.

Watson went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season by rushing for 262 yards on just 23 carries and four touchdowns to lead Clarke Central (6-1 overall, 6-1 region) to the victory.

Watson -- who scored on TD runs of 7, 37, 40 and 26 -- proved to be the difference maker as Clarke Central eventually put away a valiant effort by Apalachee (2-5, 2-5), which had a two-game win streak snapped after an 0-4 start.

Watson also accounted for 263 of Clarke Central's 343 total yards 262 on the ground and a 1-yard reception.

"I'm awfully proud of our team and we ran up against a good football team (in Clarke Central), a good running back and a program that's good every year," said Apalachee head coach Shane Davis. "It was just one of those games. We knew at halftime they would come after us and they did. We just couldn't generate enough offense like we did in the first half and we just came up short on a couple of plays. But I'm proud of our kids and I'm proud of our effort. It was a good football game."

Apalachee held a 22-19 lead at the half, but watched as Clarke Central took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched 65 yards in six plays as Denzel Maxey scored from a yard out.

Max Germain added the extra point and Clarke Central took a 26-22 lead just two minutes into the second half.

Apalachee answered right back with a 12-play, 79-yard drive that culminated in Eric Tanner's third TD of the night -- this one on a 1-yard run.

Even though the point-after try failed, Apalachee was back in front 28-26 with 3:59 left in the third quarter.

But it took just two minutes for Clarke Central to climb back on top as Watson broke away into the end zone from 26 yards out to finish another quick six-play, 60-yard drive.

Quarterback Cameron Johnson hit Torey Gartrell on a two-point pass and the Gladiators were ahead to stay 34-28.

Noah Welch added a big 40-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter to give Clarke Central the nine-point lead and left Apalachee in need of two scores.

Apalachee looked solid on its opening drive of the game -- chewing up over five minutes on the clock and going 71 yards in 12 plays with Zay Henry scoring on a 2-yard run to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.

But Clarke Central came right back to tie the game at 7-7 on a quick four-play, 51-yard drive that was capped off by Watson's 7-yard run.

The Gladiators struck quickly again on a three-play, 59-yard drive and took their first lead of the night when Watson scored his second TD on a 37-yard sprint down the left sideline.

Germain's kick went wide left and Clarke Central had a 13-7 lead heading to the second quarter.

That's when Apalachee went to work again and put together an 8-play, 71-yard drive as Tanner banged in on a 3-yard run to give the Wildcats a 14-13 lead after the Vasquez extra point.

Watson went to work again for the Gladiators, scoring this time on a 40-yard run to finish a four-play, 51-yard drive as Clarke Central regained the lead.

But Germain's point-after try never got off the ground and Clarke Central maintained a 19-14 advantage midway through the second quarter.

After each team punted once, Apalachee took over on its own 36 and struck quickly -- taking just three plays to cover the 64 yards as Tanner did the honors again with a 3-yard TD run.

Stanley Williams ran it in on the two-point try and the Wildcats took a 22-19 lead at the half.

Apalachee finished with a pair of 100-yard rushers as Henry had 123 yards on 19 carries while Williams finished with 111 yards on 13 carries.