PREVIEW: Clarke Central at Central Gwinnett

Central #44 J.B. Ezzell

Central #44 J.B. Ezzell

Clarke Central Gladiators (8-AAAAA)

Coach: Leroy Ryals

Record: 0-1

Last week: Lost to Marist 30-13

Central Gwinnett Black Knights (8-AAAAAA)

Coach: Todd Wofford

Record: 1-0

Last week: Beat Collins Hill 27-21

Central opened the season with the most quality victory in the short tenure of head coach Todd Wofford, now in his third season. The Black Knights beat a successful Collins Hill program that figures to be one of the top playoff contenders in Region 7-AAAAAA.

The offense clicked for a half behind quarterback Eman Westmoreland and playmakers like Johnathan Hawkins and Justin Brownlee, running 47 first-half plays. But Central struggled to move the ball and drain the clock in the second half, putting pressure on a defense that struggled last season.

The defense, expected to be improved under a new coaching staff, delivered with some big stops in the final two quarters. Linebackers Trey Johnson and J.B. Ezzell made a combined 29 tackles, while the secondary played well against a potent Collins Hill passing attack.

“I’m happy we got a win, but you go back and watch the film and we left a lot of yards and a lot of big plays on the field,” Wofford said. “We had a lot of penalties and in the second half we were terrible on offense. That’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job with that. But the defense was good all night and it was good to see a lot of guys who haven’t done it before on Friday nights step up.”

Clarke, which has won 11 of 12 all-time meetings with Central, didn’t fare as well in an opening loss to Marist. But the Gladiators have been strong of late with six straight playoff appearances, including the past three seasons with 10 or more wins.

Last meeting: Clarke Central won 24-14 in 2001

Directions to Central Gwinnett High School: From I-85, take Sugarloaf Parkway exit and go east to Ga. Highway 29. Turn left on Highway 29 and school is on the right at Gwinnett Drive.