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Dogs can’t contain Bracey, Gators in 35-14 setback

Camden to be on the outside, looking in, for AAA playoffs

Posted: October 21, 2011 11:38 a.m.
Updated: October 24, 2011 5:00 a.m.

All that’s left on the table, now, is pride.

Thanks to Thursday night’s 35-14 loss to visiting Lakewood, trying to close the season with a victory and end things on a positive note this Friday in Marlboro County is all which remains for the Camden High football team.

The defeat at the hands of the Gators (7-2, 2-2 in Region 6-AAA) ended the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes as Jimmy Neal’s troops fell for the fourth straight week as their record dropped to 2-7 overall and 0-4 in conference action. The loss meant CHS will miss the post-season for the first time since the 2006 campaign and only the second time in Neal’s 14 seasons at the helm.

As he sat inside an empty locker room after talking to his team, Neal explained what he told his players as they embark on their final week of practice for the season in preparation for Friday’s game at Marlboro County.

"We have one more game and that’s what we talked about … the character of this team," Neal said. "Up to this point we, sometimes, haven’t made the plays we were supposed to make and didn’t realize how important they were. But as far as going out there and playing with effort, these guys have done that."

What Camden could not do on Thursday --- when a sparse gathering showed up on a cold night at Zemp Stadium --- was match up with the speed and athleticism of the Gators’ trio of quarterback Dalvin Bracey and running backs Tyvae Dwyer and Rodrick Anderson. Led by Bracey’s rushing for 192 yards on 19 carries with three going for touchdowns, the threesome accounted for 388 of the visitors’ 406 yards in offense.

Nobody needed to tell Neal how explosive those Gators were before and/or after this game.

"We couldn’t do much with them. They’re really, really good," he said. "You have to play them perfect every time. Obviously, we could not simulate their speed in practice like we would have liked to."

For the Bulldogs, sophomore quarterback Denzel Martin completed 10 of his 17 passes for 163 yards and a pair of touchdown tosses to Darelle Smith. On the ground, after having rushed for a combined 14 yards the previous two weeks, the hosts managed 67 yards on 37 carries.

It was Camden’s offense that broke out of its recent doldrums by scoring the game’s first touchdown with a crisp, six-play 55-yard drive after the defense forced a Gators’ punt on the opening series of the game.

Tailback Jo Jo Brevard got the Dogs going by taking off for 10 yards and a first down to the LHS 45 on a second and 10 carry. Martin then found Smith for five yards and then, on third and three from the 38, Dontrell Miller went for five yards to the 33. On the next play, Martin flipped a short pass to Smith on his left and the senior flanker sped off and into the end zone for the first score of the evening. Jake Ansley followed with the PAT kick for a 7-0 CHS lead at the 7:52 mark of the first quarter.

From that point and until the final eight minutes of the contest, it was all Gators.

After the guests came up with the first of two CHS onside kicks, Bracey went to work from his own 47. "We knew they were really good on offense and even with as good as our defense is, we knew we were going to have some trouble there," Neal said of going for the onside kick right off the bat.

Bracey found a wide-open Stephon Smith in the middle of the field for a gain of 19 on second and 19 from the 38. Bracey did the rest, keeping the football on the option and going in for the tying score with 5:07 left in the first quarter.

Two CHS punts later, the Gators opened a drive from their own 24 with 1:52 left in the opening stanza. A 20-yard Anderson carry on the option pitch set the ball at the CHS 19. On second and eight from the 17, Bracey called his own number again and went in for his second touchdown and a 14-7 LHS lead with 13 ticks left in the first quarter clock.

Camden, which was seeing the option for the first time since a week zero loss to Spring Valley, struggled in containing either Bracey or the pitch man.

"We played (the option) the first game of the year and now, again, in the ninth," Neal said. "Obviously, in game nine, those guys are hitting on all cylinders and they’re playing very well."

With Lakewood putting the clamps on the CHS offense, Ansley was called on to punt six times, including on five occasions in the first half. The fourth of those was blocked by the Gators, whose offense took control of the ball at the Camden 44 with 10:31 left in the half. On the second play of the series, Bracey went untouched and sailed home with a 41-yard scoring jaunt with 9:46 showing on the second quarter clock.

Having one blocked punt, the Gators’ special teams came up with another big play and this was the back-breaker.

Dwyer went back to punt after a Bracey incompletion left the guests staring down a fourth and 11 from their own 44 with 25 ticks left in the first half clock. Dwyer then bolted to his right and took off on a 56-yard scoring run to give the Gators a commanding 28-7 lead at the break.

CHS was held to 65 first half yards as Martin struggled after he was given a different-than-expected look from the Gator defense.

"We probably had too much stuff in," Neal said of his team’s offensive game plan. "We prepared all week for the 3-5-3 and then, they gave us a 4-2 look. I’m sure that bothered Denzel a great deal, also. That’s tough.

"But, I thought Denzel did some good things out there … I thought he did some real good things. He had a rough game last week (against Darlington), but I thought he made some good throws tonight and he had a couple good runs. He’s working at it, he’s growing and he’s constantly learning. We’re proud of the direction he’s going."

Martin seemed more comfortable in the second half and led the Dogs on a scoring threat which started from their own 36 and ended at the LHS 13 when Ansley was called on when the Dogs faced a fourth and four from the 13, only to miss the mark with his 30-yard field goal try. In between, CHS used a 43-yard Martin-to-Cedric Cook pass on fourth and 22 from its own 38 to get to the LHS 19.

After the missed try for three,s Bracey needed just one snap of the ball to find the end zone again as he sped off with an 80-yard scoring run and a 35-7 lead with 7:31 left in the third quarter.

CHS, which lost three second half fumbles, cashed in on a scoring opportunity early in the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Darren Chestnut came up with an LHS fumble at the Gators’ 33.

After two Brevard carries netted 14 yards, Martin would find Jerel Holloman with a six-yard pass to the 13. On the next snap, Martin lofted a pretty fade pass to Smith for the touchdown, reducing the deficit to 35-14 with 7:12 to go.

Another LHS fumble was recovered by Camden’s Trey Blow at his own 40 with 5:41 left to play. On third and 11 from the 39, martin again hooked up with Cook, this time for a gain of 40 to the Gators’ 12. An eight-yard Brevard run and a five-yard Martin keeper put the ball at the 10. A roughing the passer penalty then gave the Dogs a first and goal from the five, but a first down fumble was scooped up by Anderson at his own 10.

Anderson looked as if he would score, only to be tracked down at the CHS nine by a hustling smith. The guests would not score on the short field.

Neal said that play showed his team has not quit.

"Darelle Smith has made a lot of good plays around here, but that play he made at the end of the game might have been his best one ever," Neal said of the senior flanker’s turning into a defender on the same play. "And, Jerel Holloman was fighting his way to get down there, too. All those guys were racing like crazy and doing what they could to get down there."

Neal said that after trailing 35-7, it would have been easy for this game to have gotten out of hand. He credited his players on the field for not folding their tents before the final horn sounded.

"It was game nine and we were down 35-7 at one point and they were still fighting, battling, scratching and clawing," Neal said with admiration in his voice. "As long as they do that, they’re going to be OK; I don’t know why we would have thought any differently about their playing hard."

With his team knowing what night their season will end for the first time in six years, Neal said he does not expect the Bulldogs to send it in on Friday. He said there is too much character and pride for this squad to do that against the host Bulldogs in Bennettsville.

"It’s another chance for them to play," Neal said of the approach his team will take for the season finale.

"You’re always concerned about that when you’re going through something like this, but those guys refuse to give in. I’m sure that there are people saying things about them or their coaches, but they don’t listen to it. They go out there and do the best they can. I’m very proud of the effort."

 

Bulldog Bites:

Seats were plentiful on only the second home Thursday night game of the Neal era … Among those in attendance were former Bulldog standouts and North-South All-Star game participants brothers Chris and Michael Speaks, who were there for Senior Night to watch their nephew and CHS senior wide out, Tripp Speaks. Chris, a 1983 North-South all-star, went on to play quarterback at Furman. Michael, who played in the 1986 post-season contest and went on to play offensive line at Presbyterian, also had a role in the football movie, "The Program," which was filmed in Columbia … Ansley had a 48-yard punt in the game, his longest of the season … Cook and Smith were again Martin’s favorite targets with the speedy junior grabbing four passes for 88 yards. Smith had three catches for 51 yards with two of those resulting in touchdowns … Camden cannot play the role of spoiler since the Region 6-AAA title was decided between Marlboro County and Hartsville on Friday.

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