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Knights end year with a 2-0 record

NC runs past Hornets, 33-8, to close out season

Posted: October 29, 2011 1:35 p.m.
Updated: October 31, 2011 5:00 a.m.

With his team’s playoff hopes dashed after having lost their first eight games of the season, North Central head coach Louis Clyburn asked his players to turn the page and start anew with two games left to be played.

Following Friday’s 33-8 win over host C.A. Johnson, the Knights closed out a mini, two-game season unbeaten with the first back-to-back wins in the three-year Clyburn era in Boonetown.

"To finish the season with a 2-0 record was a good way for our seniors to go out," Clyburn said. "Our kids got together and said they wanted to go 2-0. Their theme was to go 2-0; this wasn’t something that I said to them. They know that, in a hiccup, we could have finished with a 5-5 record this season."

Clyburn said the groundwork for the strong closing stretch was laid when the NC staff underwent some changes in responsibilities which filtered down to the field, including a change to a 3-4 defensive front. Clyburn credited his assistant coaches for carrying out their new responsibilities.

"We changed some things three weeks ago," Clyburn said. "We just took the attitude that we were not going to keep things the same and expect different results. We made some changes with our coaches and put Robbie (Cash) on top of the press box (to add another set of eyes there) and we ended up averaging 35 more yards a game over the last three weeks.

"On defense, we went to a 3-4 package with more stunts, blitzing and playing more more-to-man coverage in the secondary so when we face a player like C.A. Johnson had in their 6-foot-4 receiver, we could shadow him with Shaquille McClinton, our best cornerback, and have (safety) Anthony Spinelli helping out over the top."

The strategy worked as NC linebackers Myles Dunham and Reggie Outten played a game of "meet me at the quarterback" in spending a good portion of their night in the Hornets’ backfield. "That was the difference in the ballgame," Clyburn said of his defense slowing down the hosts.

Offensively, NC put this one away early, scoring a pair of first half touchdowns to carry a 14-0 lead into the locker room.

The Knights scored on the game’s first series when they drove 65 yards, capped by a 15-yard Tavarus Porter touchdown run. Alan Estrada then booted the PAT kick for a quick 7-0 NC lead.

NC confused the CAJ defense by running different looks at the hosts, while running the same six plays off the sets. The ploy, Clyburn said, confused the Hornets’ defense.

With each team going on three extended drives but not having anything to show for it, it was the NC defense which, again, came up big on fourth and 30 from the Hornets’ 20. On the snap to the punter, the ball sailed over his head and into the end zone, but the kicker was still able to retrieve the ball and get it away, only to have the short punt caught by NC’s Chris Vasquez at the CAJ six. He took the ball into the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead in what Clyburn said was the play of the game for his team.

The hosts then went to a two-minute offense which was shot down by a trio of NC sacks to close the half.

"Our defense really stepped up for us," Clyburn said. "We were pretty confident going into the game, but our defense was pretty doggone good. They shut down a C.A. Johnson team which is full of athletes."

CAJ’s defense was bent on stopping Porter and the hosts assigned, basically, six people to the NC tailback. At halftime, Clyburn said he talked to quarterback Grayson King about having to loosen the Hornets’ defense up by his passing and keeping the ball on zone reads.

A Spinelli interception opened the second half and gave the ball back to the hosts in enemy territory. From there, King found Raijon Jones with a pretty, 20-yard fade pass for the score and a 21-0 lead.

After CAJ scored to trim the deficit to 21-8, Porter put this one away. Asking Clyburn to play defensive tackle, which he played as a freshman, Porter was told the lead was not big enough for that move to be made. Porter then took matters into his own hands, all but carrying the load on a 60-yard drive which he ended with a four-yard scoring run.

NC put this one well out of reach when King used a pair of key runs for first downs on third and long situations before calling his own number with a one-yard sneak to give the Knights a comfortable 33-8 cushion.

"Grayson King got better and better as the season went on. That made a huge difference in our team," Clyburn said. "As the year went on, he really did a good job in figuring things out. He made very good decisions and made great strides."

Clyburn then put Porter on defense, while playing 11 seniors on defense to close out their careers.

When the game ended, Clyburn used his post-game talk to surprise and then, give NC offensive line coach Eddie Deese the game ball after a Knight signal-caller was not sacked throughout the 10-game season.

"I didn’t say anything to Eddie or anybody else about that because I didn’t want to jinx it," Clyburn said of the accomplishment of the NC offensive line. "I’ve been around football for a long time and I’ve never seen a team go through an entire season without giving up a sack."

As for the 2-0 closing salvo, Clyburn said it provides a springboard to next season when NC returns to the AA ranks.

Clyburn said he and his staff did player evaluations over the closing weeks of the season.

"We gave some younger kids a look at the end of the season and they will help us next year," Clyburn said. "We found out a lot of things about our young kids. We saw a lot of encouraging signs for our team for next season."

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