By Donnell Suggs | For The Atlanta Voice
The Clark Atlanta University Panthers returned home from Chicago (where they played and lost to Grambling University) to a not-so-friendly Fort Valley State University Wildcats squad that dealt Clark Atlanta their first home loss of the season, 41-24, on Saturday night.
Prior to the game, the Panthers were 2-0 at home following victories over Mississippi College and Central State University. Clark Atlanta had opened the 2017 season with consecutive games at CAU Panthers Stadium but haven’t played a home game since Sept. 9.
In this case, home was not where the heart was. A big offensive third quarter from the Wildcats put the game away but not after a late Panther rally made things interesting.
Ahead 17-10 at halftime after the two teams exchanged touchdowns and field goals early in the game and Fort Valley managed to go ahead on a 10 yard run into the end zone by junior college transfer Lorenzo Smothers.
Prior to the play junior quarterback Slade Jarmon (16-24 for 233 yards) connected on consecutive 10 yard passes to sophomore receiver Jeremy Glinton and senior running back Chauncey Jackson.
Jackson did most of his damage on the ground, however, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown.
The Clark Atlanta special teams would fail to take advantage of the halftime break and leave the momentum in the hand of the Wildcats, turning a routine punt into a Fort Valley 14-point lead after Smothers went 80 yards up the visitor’s sideline for a touchdown.
The Buena Vista native and Itawamba Community College transfer would finish the game with 167 all-purpose yards.
Scouting reports had to mention how dangerous Smothers could be as a punt return.
Fort Valley would go ahead by 21 points with 1:37 remaining in the third quarter as Jarman would hook up with receiver Tajee Steele for a 12-yard touchdown.
From tied at 10 to down 21 with a little more than a quarter to play. The Panthers had their backs to the wall on their own turf.
There was no quit in this Panthers team, however, as quarterback and former All-City, AJC “Super 11” selection Johnathon McCrary would lead the offense on consecutive scoring drives to cut the Wildcats lead to 31-24 with more than 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
First McCrary would throw a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Deandre Jackson (seven receptions for 98 yards) and then another on a fade route in the right corner of the Wildcat end zone to Rodney Morris.
Members of the reigning SIAC tournament champion Clark Atlanta men’s basketball team were seated on bleachers a few feet away and Morris’ catch brought all of them to their feet.
The Panthers were down by a touchdown after falling behind by three.
A redshirt junior, McCrary is in his first year at Clark Atlanta after transferring from Vanderbilt University.
The expectations for a Southeastern Conference transfer, especially at the quarterback position are normally quite high and McCrary’s two third-quarter drives for scores proved that those expectations are not too lofty. McCrary passed for 259 yards on 27-52 passing to go along with 14 rushing yards.
The fourth quarter, the difference between a good signal caller and the best of the best in the college and for that matter professional game, on the other hand, was much different.
Despite the Wildcats fumbling away a Jarmon 15-yard pass play and Clark Atlanta getting the ball back on their own 27-yard line down a touchdown, the Panthers could not take advantage of their second defensive take away.
Moments later, Fort Valley would connect on an 18-yard field goal by senior kicker Juan Serna (his second of the game) before putting the game away for good on an 84-yard interception and return by sophomore cornerback Cameron Young.
It was McCrary’s second interception of the second half. He would throw another with 30 seconds remaining in the game.
McCrary has thrown 12 touchdowns and for 1,499 yards this season but has also thrown nine interceptions.
McCrary’s first half season at Clark Atlanta is going a little like the Panthers season: Hovering at .500 with plenty of ups and downs thus far.
Roger Thomas led the Panthers in rushing with 56 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore receiver Johnathan Sanders caught a team-high eight passes for 65 yards.
Clark Atlanta will be back in action on Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina against the Benedict College Tigers.
Follow Suggs on Twitter at @suggswriter.