Last Friday, October 4, the Cedar Shoals Jaguars suffered a 34-10 loss in their first region matchup against their Classic City rival, the Clarke Central Gladiators in their 53rd annual matchup.
After 2018’s defensive thriller at Billy Henderson Stadium, the Jaguars broke the Glad’s 10 game win streak in the historic rivalry, coming back from a 7-0 halftime deficit to win 17-7. Going into Friday, the Jags looked to start their own winning streak in the series. After the first quarter, it appeared the Eastside school was on track to do so.
On Central’s first possession, the Cedar defense held down quarterback Issac Ward’s high flying offense with a three-and-out. The Jaguars then marched down the field to set up junior William Fang to hit a 42-yard field goal to lead 3-0.
After another Central punt, the Jaguars looked to extend their lead late in the first quarter, but the Glads’ blocked Fang’s second attempt, a 35-yarder. The Gladiators then garnered a 16-play long haul drive that ended with a touchdown, only to be called back by an illegal procedure penalty. Central kicker Christian Byran missed the 24-yard attempt keeping the Jags optimistic.
The Jaguar momentum didn’t last long. With less than four minutes in the first half, Gladiator running back O’Brien Barnett’s 3-yard score was followed by Jairvus “NoNo” Mack’s 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
“We didn’t capitalize on some opportunities we had in the first quarter, and we thought we should have a lot more scoring opportunities,” Cedar Shoals Head Coach Leroy Ryals said.
Penalties hurt the Jaguars all night, slowing down their drives and making Central’s job easier.
“It was chaos. Basically trying to get everybody to do their job because everybody was messing up,” said Cedar quarterback Jaylan Rusher, who completed 9-17 attempts for 128 total yards.
The Shoals had nine total penalties on the night, killing any forward progress on several drives.
“We had a lot of undisciplined penalties in the first quarter and we overcame them, but we couldn’t in the second and third quarter,” said Ryals.
Central’s fast tempo dictated the pace of the second half, and toward the end of the third quarter Mack’s second touchdown put the Gladiators ahead 34-3, sealing away the game.
“We know what they (Central’s offense) were going to do,” said Ryals. “The only thing they ran was the wheel route to (Barnett) that we haven’t seen, we just didn’t execute it.” Barnett finished with 230 total yards, averaging 7.4 each carry.
Ward’s 195 passing yards on an 87% completion percentage is a big reason why they caught a rhythm.
“He’s tough,” said Ryals. “I’ve known Issac since he was five or six years old. You can tell he’s been around ball all his life; he’s competitive and knows what to do.”
In the 4th quarter, reserves from both teams entered the game and junior tailback Stanley Smith found the endzone for the Jag’s first and only touchdown with 37 seconds left, ending the game at 34-10.
“I had to read the defense on certain plays, and I just made the wrong reads,” Rusher said about this performance. “I should have pulled the ball a few times and let the running back keep it.”
Moving forward, Ryals hopes to implement the culture within the team similar to last year.
“All the hype really affected us last week, but that’s a part of the immaturity we have as a football program,” Ryals said. “We had a little more senior leadership last year, we have a young team that’s just maturing. It’s the school itself too. You can’t just get hype one game, you got to have the same thing throughout every game.”