CLAYTON — —In an important Greater Neuse River Conference matchup against East Wake, Clayton relied on the strength of its rushing attack and a pair of Blake Joyner interceptions to hold off a late East Wake rally for a 35-26 win to take a big step to gaining a postseason berth.
The Comets’ Jace Brown, Eric Hoy and Rodney Rowe combined for 329 yards on the ground but, in the end, it was Blake Joyner’s two interceptions, including one late in the fourth quarter, which proved to be just enough to out-duel the Warriors’ Trent Evans and his 312 yards of total offense.
“We have a lot to play for,” Clayton coach Randy Pinkowski said, referring to the Comets’ push for a top-three finish and berth in the playoffs. “I told the kids that they’re promised 10 more days right now. But every time you notch a ‘W’ you get the opportunity to play another week.”
Clayton wasted little time in setting the tone as East Wake quarterback Trent Evans was flushed out of the pocket on his first drop back of the game. The defensive pressure resulted in a lofted ball sent toward the Clayton secondary where Joyner was ready to bring down the pass and then rumble 43 yards for the touchdown just 18 seconds into the contest.
If the first Joyner interception set the tone, the sophomore’s second interception sealed the game.
After falling behind 28-6 at halftime and 35-12 late in the fourth quarter, Evans connected with Quincy Jackson for a 53-yard touchdown pass and Damontay Rhem added a nine-yard rushing score to close East Wake(3-6, 2-2) to within the 35-26 score.
Then, with just under five minutes left in the game and the Warriors at midfield threatening to make it a one-possession game, Evans threw deep for Evan Finch only to have Joyner make a leaping interception at the Clayton 10-yard line to preserve the win.
Brown took over from there to melt the clock and push the Comets to 6-3 overall and 2-2 in the GNRC.
“Clayton did a great job with time management,” East Wake coach John Poulnott said. “It’s hard when you’ve got a team like them that pounds the ball the way do when you get behind by 14 points to find some extra possessions and they’re just killing the clock.”
Hoy led Clayton with 127 yards on ten rushes with one going for a score. Brown added 117 yards and Rowe pitched in with 85 yards and a pair of first half scores.
Evans finished his night with 213 yards on 17-of-29 passing and also rushed for 99 yards on just nine carries, most coming from eluding the Clayton pass rush. Jackson finished the game with five catches for 113 yards and the long touchdown reception.