By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — You could tell from the very beginning Friday night that Jonesboro-Riverdale was going to be about defense.
Perhaps the best indication was when No. 7 Jonesboro’s unblockable DT Kali James emerged from the ground after his first sack of Riverdale quarterback Joseph Cambridge and held up his index finger Dikembe Mutumbo style, as if to say “Not today.”
In reality, he was simply keeping track.
“That’s one sack, baby,” James said while running to the sideline after that early defensive series. “They can’t block me.”
Or maybe it was later in the second quarter when Riverdale corner Nate Williams, Jr. laid the wood on Jonesboro’s Jordan Griffin as he caught a pass over the middle.
Kenneth Qualls’ monster stick on Raiders wideout DeAngelo Harris that separated the 6-foot-3 senior from the ball on what otherwise would’ve been a heck of a catch should probably qualify in the category of game-defining big plays.
To be sure, the 23-12 Jonesboro win was a scrum. It wasn’t pretty. It’s what typically happens when two county rivals get together.
“This is Clayton County,” said Riverdale coach Terry Herrod after the game. “This is what happens whenever Jonesboro and Riverdale play each other. No matter what sport, it’s always a game everybody wants to get into.”
And Riverdale (4-3) was in it against the seventh-ranked Jonesboro until the end — even after a 27 yard touchdown pass from Zerrick Cooper to William Wise put the Cardinals up 17-6 with 7:47 left in the game.
That’s when Cambridge engineered an impressively quick drive capped off by a 10-yard scoring strike to Kelvin Thomas just two minutes later. At that point it was 17-12, and Riverdale had life before Herrod’s team went into full self destruct mode.
It happened with three straight personal foul penalties called on Riverdale that set up Matavian Brooks for a two-yard score to give Jonesboro a 23-12 lead with 3:27 to go. Game over, right?
Darian Dukes took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to put Riverdale in position to make it a one possession game again. But in a night of spectacular defensive effort on both sides, it may have been linebacker Jason Sears stepping in front of a Cambridge pass headed to the end zone that served as the play of the game.
Sears returned it for an apparent pick six, but the touchdown was wiped off the board, thanks to an illegal block. The Cardinals maintained possession of the ball, though, and bled the clock out.
Herrod balanced out his synopsis of the game with praise for Jonesboro’s efforts and disdain at his team’s self-inflicted wounds.
“It’s tough, you know. Our kids played hard, but we didn’t play smart,” Herrod said. “We didn’t play disciplined, and that all starts with me. If we play more disciplined, and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties, that’s a different ball game. But tip your hat to Jonesboro’s defense. They’ve been stepping up all year and been opportunistic in goal line situations.
“They didn’t make as many mistakes in the game, and that was the deciding point.”
Jonesboro coach Tim Floyd was equally has hard on his team and their composure.
“That discipline piece is most definitely something we talk about every day,” Floyd said. “Hopefully our guys learned the importance of staying disciplined and sticking to the things we do no matter what the other team’s doing.”
Although Riverdale incurred most of the personal foul calls, both teams engaged in some jawing with each other, especially right before halftime. It was enough to cause the normally mild-mannered Floyd to get up in one of his players’ faces as the teams walked to the locker rooms.
Floyd said he was just trying to remind them of the importance of not getting sidetracked.
“Some of the things we got into with them were boneheaded on our part,” he said. “I had to remind our guys that we just can’t have any of that. We don’t have time for it.”
OTHER GAME NOTES:
> Jonesboro senior tailback Montralius Mosley didn’t find the end zone, nor did he manage to break one of his patented 50-plus yard, late game runs, but with 105 yard effort on 20 carries Friday night, Mosley eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the season.
> Riverdale quarterback Joseph Cambridge showed his dual threat abilities once again showing a big arm on an early 73 yard TD pass to Carlton Crosdale in the first quarter, and showing good speed on a 31 yard scramble to keep an almost-dead drive alive.
> Kali James continued his season-long domination at the defensive tackle position, registering two sacks and five tackles, two of which were for loses. Defensive end Joshua James also tallied a pair of sacks. When asked the secret of his success this year, he said, “I just forgot that size is supposed to matter.”
> Despite the loss, Herrod was in no mood to feel sorry for himself or his team, nor play the coulda-woulda-shoulda game. With back-to-back clashes against both Spalding County schools looming, Herrod said his bunch won’t waste time stewing over Friday night.
“For us, we still control our own destiny. We win these next two against Spalding and Griffin and we’re in the play-in game,” he said. “Every game we’ve played since I’ve been here, I think physically we’ve had a chance to compete. We just have to get mentally tough and disciplined. We’ll keep focusing on it.”