OAKWOOD — If it could go wrong for Johnson, it did Friday night. And at the most inopportune time.
A blocked punt, a botched fake punt, three fumbles, a pick-6 -- all coming in the first half -- contributed to a stunning 48-14 Clarke Central win at The Dungeon with the Knights looking to make a playoff push for the first time in 15 years.
Johnson (4-5, 1-3 Region 8-5A) came into the contest needing just one win to qualify for the playoffs. Clarke Central (6-3, 3-1) clinched a home playoff game with the victory and can win the region outright next week if it can knock off No. 1 and unbeaten Buford (9-0, 4-0).
But despite the disappointing loss, Johnson will still get that chance next week on the road against Loganville. A win and they’re in.
“We just made too many mistakes and you can’t do that against a great team like that,” Johnson coach Stan Luttrell said. “You can’t match their speed and power in practice and I think our guys may have been a little taken aback at the beginning. We really beat ourselves tonight more than anything.
“We still have a chance and we’re going to start getting ready for Loganville. The key for us is always just about us. We have to execute our offense and not make mistakes.”
The Gladiators led 34-0 at halftime but it could have been much worse if not for the Johnson defense, which forced one missed field and a pair of field goals on short Clarke Central drives after turnovers. Clarke Central led just 7-0 after the first quarter despite a slew of Johnson errors. A 27-point second quarter by the Gladiators, however, was too much to overcome.
“Our offense just put our defense in too many tough spots,” Luttrell said. “I really feel like our defense played pretty well considering. It’s a unit that has gotten better each week. We’ll need them next week.”
Clarke Central got things going quickly blocking a Johnson punt on the first possession of the game. But the Knights defense held and a Christian Bryan field goal was no good.
But Johnson would fumble two plays later and the Gladiators cashed in with a 7-yard TD pass from Isaac Ward to Justin Hodges for a 7-0 late in the first quarter.
Johnson again was forced to punt on its next possession and a botched fake attempt gave Clarke Central the ball at the Knights 14. But the Johnson defense again stiffened, forcing a 36-yard field by Bryan for a 10-0 lead.
After another Johnson punt, a 49-yard pass from Isaac Ward to Nono Mack on the next play gave the Gladiators a 17-0 lead just two minutes into the second quarter.
Johnson finally got its offense untracked as Jack Luttrell connected with Xzavier Ramsey on a pair of passes of 19 and 28 yards to get to the Gladiators 5. But a Knights’ penalty helped force a 4th-and-goal at the 5. Clarke Central’s Sidney Barnett then stepped in front of a Luttrell pass in the end zone and returned it 101-yards for a score and a 24-0 lead late in the half.
Johnson fumbled the ensuing kickoff but again the defense held forcing another Bryan field goal of 44-yards as Clarke Central pushed its lead to 27-0. Another Johnson fumble helped Clarke make it 34-0 on a 30-yard TD pass from Ward to Mack.
The Gladiators made sure there would be no comeback taking the opening drive of the second half 65 yards, capped by a 34-yard run from O’Brien Barnett for a 41-0 lead four minutes into the third quarter. A fifth Johnson turnover of the night three plays later led to another third-quarter score for Clarke Central.
Johnson finally got on the board midway through the fourth quarter when Luttrell scored on a 27-yard run to cap an 80-yard drive. Nick Bulloch added a 15-yard touchdown run on a pitch to the left side with just over a minute left.
C -- Hodges 7 pass from Ward (Bryan kick) 7-0, 3:33
C -- Bryan 36 FG 10-0, 11:55
C -- Mack 49 pass from Ward (Bryan kick) 17-0, 10:00
C -- Barnett 101-yd INT return ( Bryan kick) 24-0, 3:39
C -- Bryan 44 FG 27-0, 2:04
C -- Mack 30 pass from Ward (Bryan kick) 34-0, 1:16
C -- Barnett 34 run (Bryan kick) 41-0, 7:56
C -- Robinson 12 run (Bryan kick) 48-0, 1:28
J -- Luttrell 27 run (Flores kick) 48-7, 8:25
J -- Bulloch 15 run (Flores kick) 48-14, 1:23