RALEIGH — Top-ranked Southeast Raleigh got enough out of its good stretches of play and overcame the rough to earn a Greater Neuse River 4-A Conference season-opening win Friday night over Clayton, 21-10.
Kent State recruit Gabe Henderson led the Bulldogs (5-0) to touchdowns on the first two drives of the game, then scrambled 15 yards for the final touchdown on fourth-and-6 early in the fourth quarter.
Henderson rushed for 126 yards on the night and threw for another 123 yards on 15 of 22 attempts.
"This whole week has been a struggle, dealing with homecoming and the different schedule of things," Southeast coach Daniel Finn said. "I was concerned about how we'd start because we weren't sharp in pre-game. We started out fine, but we just couldn't maintain any intensity all night.
"Clayton is a team that plays so hard and intense. We didn't match that like I hoped we would tonight."
Bulldogs running backs Tommy Branch (from 8 yards out) and Sean McLean (from 7 yards) put Southeast up 14-0 early in the second quarter. But then the Comets (1-4) sparked to life after Donte Johnson returned the kickoff following McLean's score 46 yards.
Eric Winkler drilled home a 32-yard field goal to give Clayton a boost. The Comets defense then held on fourth down near midfield.
The Comets' Matt Crutcher pulled in a 45-yard play-action pass from quarterback Matt Reid on the second play of the drive, giving the Comets first-and-goal.
Four plays later, Montrelle Sanders followed a great push by the left side of the Comets line over the goal line, getting Clayton to within 14-10 at the half.
"Southeast just makes it so tough for you to move the ball on them," Clayton coach Gary Fowler said. "They're big, strong and move to the ball so well."
Southeast's defense took over from there, though. The Bulldogs offense gave up turnovers on their first two drives of the half, but both times Clayton failed to get anything going against the unit led by Notre Dame recruit Kendall Moore and 6-foot-4, 396-pound lineman Brandon Miller. Clayton rushed for just 34 yards.
Johnson intercepted a Henderson pass in the end zone to stop the first Southeast drive of the third quarter, and Eddie Lozoya recovered a Henderson fumble on the next possession.
"We just weren't very smart with the ball on offense tonight," Finn said. "We gave up fumbles too easily at times."
Southeast's Malcolm Nunley got the ball right back for his team, intercepting a pass at the 25-yard line.
Penalties on three consecutive plays forced the Bulldogs into a second-and-36, but Henderson completed a pass to Keith Tucker on third down.
Four plays later, Henderson pulled the ball down after being unable to find a receiver and scampered around the left side for the 15-yard TD run.