Patriots’ defense may rule the Dome


If you’re late jumping on the Sandy Creek bandwagon but want to show your support for the Patriots, here’s what you need to know.
The Patriots won their Class AAAA state semi-final game at Griffin last Friday and are now the first football team in Fayette County history to make the state finals.
Sandy Creek Patriots (13-1) vs. Clarke Central Gladiators (12-2)
The Patriots lost their season opener on the road at East Coweta and have won 13 straight. They won two state playoff games at home (37-19 over Loganville, 17-14 over Tucker) and two on the road in what many Georgia high school football pundits believe are among the toughest places in the state to play (31-17 over Thomas County Central and 22-15 over Griffin). They have tied Starr’s Mill’s county record for wins in a season with 13.
Sandy Creek is led by running back Rajion Neal, a senior heading to Mississippi State University next year. Neal has rushed for 1,641 yards and 33 touchdowns this season.
The team’s quarterback is Ronnie Bell (112 of 215 passing for 1,823 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions) and he has a number of great receivers to throw to, including Jarrett Davis (34 catches, 609 yards, four touchdowns), Devon Hughes (37 catches 560 yards, six touchdowns) and Alex Chisum (28 catches, 463 yards and five touchdowns).
They say that defense wins championships, and it can be argued that the Sandy Creek defense is what has put them on the precipice of a state title. Clinard Stokes (120 tackles, nine tackles for a loss), Georgia Tech bound Isaiah Johnson (99 tackles, five tackles for a loss, six interceptions), Mike Spaulding (87 tackles, seven tackles for a loss), Mike Hilton (76 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, three sacks), Cedric Byrd (75 tackles, seven pass break-ups), Jamal Ware (65 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, three fumble recoveries, six pass break-ups) and Lacy Coleman (53 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, six tackles for a loss) are just a few of the defenders to keep an eye on this Friday.
And, of course, there’s the kicker, Zach Lopez. Lopez handles punts, kickoffs and extra points. He has 36 punts for 1,378 yards for an average of 38.3 yards per punt. He is also 10 of 13 on field goals and 54 of 59 in extra point attempts.
Clarke Central has won eight games in a row since a 26-23 overtime loss to Rockdale County on Oct. 2. The Gladiators got their revenge last Friday by blanking Rockdale County 28-0 in the other Class AAAA semi-final. Clarke Central’s only other loss this season was on Sept. 18 when they were defeated by Apalachee 21-7.
The Gladiators are led by quarterback Martay Mattox (721 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns, 1,738 yards passing, 15 touchdowns.) His top receiver is Dimitri Holmes (1,001 yards, nine touchdowns), while Jeremy Hughes has 254 yards receiving and four touchdowns and Quenshaun Watson, another tailback, has 633 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
Defensively, players to watch on the Gladiators are Jordan Pierce (112 tackles, seven tackles for a loss) Devonte Derricotte (108 total tackles), Herb Evans (69 total tackles), Rush Maxwell (66 tackles, four tackles for a loss), Tony Glenn (62 total tackles, two tackles for a loss, two fumble recoveries) and Ryan Faust (23 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, seven sacks).
The kicker is Adam Erickson. He has made 43 of 48 extra point attempts and seven of 16 field goal attempts. As a punter, Erickson has 48 punts for 1,804 yards for an average of 37.6 yards per punt.
Sandy Creek has scored more points (468-362, 33.4 per game to 25.9) and allowed less (154 points to 198, 11.0 per game to 14.1).
Clarke Central has won three state titles (1977, 1979 and 1985) and last played in the title game in 1992.
The Class AAAA final is set to take place Friday night at the Georgia Dome at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 at Sandy Creek, $20 at the gate and through Ticketmaster.
The Sandy Creek and Clarke Central game will follow the Class AA Final between Buford (13-1) and Calhoun (14-0), slated to begin at 4:30 p.m. Games will be broadcast on Georgia Public Broadcasting, on the web at and on the radio at 680 AM.
For a recap of last Friday’s semi-final game against Griffin, see the story on Page C8.