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Neal seals the deal as Dogs top MC, 7-3

Posted: October 30, 2010 2:28 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2010 5:00 a.m.

As Zack Neal’s father and football coach, Jimmy Neal was as proud as he could have been about his son’s two, possibly, game-saving interceptions which helped preserved Camden’s 7-3 win over visiting Marlboro County in Friday’s regular season finale at Zemp Stadium.

As Camden athletic director, Jimmy Neal probably has several thousand reasons to appreciate his son’s coming up with two key picks in the closing three and a half minutes of the contest. By keeping MC out of the end zone, it gave the host Bulldogs second place in Region 6-AAA and a first round home playoff date this Friday night, presumably, against Berkeley.

Had Camden (9-1, 4-1 in 6-AAA) lost Friday’s contest, it would have meant a road trip to Bluffton for Friday’s post-season opener. When all was said and done after that trip, CHS may well have been out of pocket a hefty chunk of change. Instead, it will have a home game, receive a portion of the gate and not have to pay for the lengthy bus trip to the easternmost region of the state.

Now, about Berkeley. The Stags were defeated by Cane Bay, 14-7, Friday night, creating a three-way tie atop Region 7. Berkeley, the defending state 4A Division two champions, fell to third-place after the region’s tie-breaker. But, BHS head coach Jerry Brown is appealing that system to the AAA football coaches association, a group which just happens to be chaired by one Jimmy Neal. A vote on the matter is expected sometime today. Regardless, Neal and his staff are working on the assumption that they will face Berkeley on Friday at Zemp.

The fact that the Dogs would be at home this week was in doubt as MC (6-4, 3-2) used a 26-yard Delvin McRae to Malik Ford completion on first and 10 from their own 30 to start a drive which followed the game’s lone touchdown, a six-yard pass from Camden’s Dillon Morrow to Jerrod Beaufort with 5:05 left in the game.

MC continued to drive the football and was looking at a second and inches from the CHS 20 when Neal sat in coverage and picked off a McRae pass at the 10. He ran five yards before sliding down at the 15 with 3:26 to play. After a three and out, followed by Alvonta` Jenkins punt from out of his own end zone to the MC 46, the guests had one more shot as they set up shop at the Camden 48.

Connections of nine and 16 yards from McRae to Ford put the ball at the 23. Then, a holding call against MC negated a five-yard pass and pushed the guests back to the 38. On third and 24 from the 37, McRae’s 30th pass of the night was grabbed by a diving Neal at the 26 with 26 ticks left in the game clock.

Neal was greeted with a hero’s welcome following his third pick of the season. Later, the senior inside linebacker shrugged it off as just doing his job.

“We had great pressure from our defensive line on both plays,” Neal said. “We had a blitz called for out other inside linebacker (Brayan Mendez). Number three (Travis Campbell) ran a vertical, I got underneath it and the quarterback threw it right into my zone.”

The victory capped off three frustrating losses to MC in the previous two seasons for Camden, which came a 40-yard Ryan Jansen field goal shy of posting its third shutout in five region contests.

Once again, the CHS defense, obviously, rose to the occasion. Only on this night, so too did the visiting Bulldogs. Each defense forced seven punts. MC held Camden to a season-low 10 yards rushing while quarterback Dillon Morrow threw for 148. The visitors ran for 73 yards and passed for 154 on a night when points were at a premium.

“It was a great job by our defense … a great job by a bunch of guys on our defense,” Jimmy Neal said.

“It was an outstanding regular season win; none of them are easy. I just thought it was a great character check for our young men. I’m proud of them.”

“Their offense is impressive,” said Zack Neal. “Their quarterback (McRae) is an athlete and their offensive line is huge. We were just hoping to stop the run, keep them from throwing to (Ford) and see what we could do from there.”

It was MC which cashed in on its first chance of the night, taking the opening kickoff and traveling 65 yards on 11 plays before Jansen found the mark from 40 yards out.

The first big play of the night came when McRae spotted tight end Jiovante Leggette over the middle with an 18-yard strike at the CHS 34 on third and eight from the MC 48. The Camden defense came up big after the hosts picked up a first down at the 21. A first down Ford carry went nowhere. On send down, McRae just managed to get the ball off in a throwing motion on what, at first, appeared to be a sack and fumble. A third down run by Jeremy Littles went for a loss to two, forcing Jansen to come on and split the uprights from 40 yards away with 7:17 showing on the first quarter clock.

The CHS defense continued to turn back MC, even after an interception gave the visitors the ball at their own 45 after the first play of the second quarter. Three plays later, Brent Hyatt was called on to punt.

After having run 14 plays with three punts and an interception to show for it, the Camden offense finally started making some headway after taking over via a Hyatt punt at its own 34.

Morrow found DaVante` Hayes for 11 yards on first down. Two plays later, the same duo hooked up on a 32-yard pass which Hayes took to the MC 19. A pair of offsides calls gave the Dogs a second and four from the 13. Looking over the middle, Morrow’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Justin Moore at the four, stunting the lone CHS scoring opportunity with 1:18 left in the first half.

Neal tipped his cap to Moore and to MC’s defensive coaches for that, and other plays.

“They had a nice plan for us,” Jimmy Neal said. “Their linebacker (Moore) did a really good job of dropping back there. Dillon made the right read, but there guy did a good job of being there for them.”

Trailing by three at the break, Neal said his coaches did not make any grand scheme changes at halftime. What he wanted his offense to do was try and settle down and concern itself with execution rather than where MC linebacker Lateek Townsend was lining up and where he might be coming from.

“I don’t know that we changed anything. I think that we worried too much about 17 (Townsend) and not enough about what we needed to,” said the CHS head coach. “For the most part tonight, I thought our offensive line played really, really well. They did a good job of protecting Dillon.”

Offensive frustration and punt exchanges ruled the third quarter and the first part of the fourth as Jansen’s kick loomed larger and larger as the minutes and seconds kept leaving the game clock.

The lone third quarter scoring chance for CHS, on a 26-yard punt return to the MC 19 by Darelle Smith was wiped off the boards after Camden rough Hyatt on the punt. The ensuing drive ended with a McRae fumbles which was recovered by CHS tackle Tim Dixon at his own 38 with 11:09 left in the game.

A second McRae fumble was recovered by CHS tackle Sheldon Wright, who ran with the ball for 12 yards to the MC 38 with 9:56 left to play. Camden moved four yards in three plays with MC’s defense stonewalling Jeffrey Belton at the 23 on a fourth and six Morrow shovel pass from the 24 with 9:12 showing on the clock.

Hyatt’s final punt, a 38-yarder fair caught by Smith, gave the hosts the ball at their own 37 with 7:09 left in the game.

On first down, Morrow found Jenkins for a gain of 18 to the MC 45. On second down from that spot, the same duo hooked up on a bubble screen which Jenkins turned into a gain of 21. The connection continued to produce with Jenkins making a fingertip grab of a high bullet from Morrow, which turned into a 14-yard gain to the six.

Morrow’s first down pass was batted down at the line while his second down throw to Hayes fell  incomplete. On third and goal, Morrow rolled right and zipped a pass to the 6-foot-1 Beaufort in the top left corner of the end zone for his seventh touchdown grab of the season. Ethan Smith then drilled the PAT kick to give the hosts a four-point, 7-3 cushion with 5:05 remaining in the contest.

“I thought the drive that we scored on was outstanding,” Neal said. “I thought Dillon threw the ball with authority, the protection was really good and I thought we made crisp catches. We looked really sharp. And, I thought that was a big kick by Ethan.”

From there, Jimmy Neal was comfortable in putting the game in the hands of his defense, which had to come up big on two more occasions against an athletic MC offense.

“We just wanted to keep everything in front of us and not give up anything cheap,” Neal said of finally playing with the lead in this game. “The next thing you know, they are getting 10 yards at a time and going down the field against us.

“But, we flushed the quarterback, got him on the run and made his throw across his body a little bit, which was when Zack made the first interception. You might want (Zack) to run it out a little further than that, but you never know when somebody might come from behind and knock the ball out.”

To no one’s surprise, CHS kept the ball on the ground before being forced to punt, setting up Zack Neal’s game-clincher.

When asked to make the move from head coach to father, Jimmy Neal became a proud dad.

“It is fun; I’m not going to lie about it. I’m happy for Zack,” he said. “As a dad, heck yeah, that was fun. He’s a guy who knows where to be. It’s important to him with all the time he’s put into it over the last four or five years. I’m glad to see him make a couple nice plays for us.”

And those two plays helped keep Camden at home, for at least one more week.

“It was the world, really,” Zack Neal said when asked about the win on Senior Night. “As seniors, we knew this could be our last game at Zemp. All week long, we made sure that we stayed focused in practice. Our season was on the line tonight.

“We love this place … we love Zemp. This stadium means so much to us.”


Bulldog Bites: For the fourth time this season, Camden was held to less than 50 yards rushing, relying on the arm of Morrow and his group of receivers to carry the offense … Jenkins led the way for the receivers with eight catches for 83 yards. He also averaged 42 yards in punts on a night in which his right leg was needed in a big way … While having some negative plays due to the wet ball slipping from his hands, Morrow was not sacked on the night … Brevard was Camden’s leading ground gainer, going for 16 yards on nine carries on a night in which the hosts ran the ball just 18 times … After the game, and upon his return home, Townsend was driven to the airport to catch the red-eye to Los Angeles for his official visit to Southern Cal for the Trojans’ Saturday game with Oregon.

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