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NC jumps on Panthers quickly en route to third straight win

Posted: September 15, 2012 2:40 p.m.
Updated: September 17, 2012 5:00 a.m.

File this in the “Looks can be deceiving” file.
Upon first glance, it may appear as if North Central was given a bit of a run for its money in Friday’s 52-32 victory over host McBee. Upon closer inspection, however, that argument does not hold water.
The Knights cruised to a 40-12 halftime lead and then, stepped off the proverbial gas in the second half as Louis Clyburn’s troops went to their bench in holding out several starters who sustained what the fourth-year NC head coach termed “some bumps and bruises”  earlier in the non-region contest.
Regardless of who was or was not on the field at the end, what cannot be disputed is the fact that the Knights have now won three straight games, something which they have not accomplished in since 2007, while improving to 3-1 heading into this Friday’s rivalry game at Andrew Jackson.
For the third time in as many weeks, the NC offense exploded for big numbers. The 52 points represents the most points scored in the Clyburn era in Boonetown and gives the Knights 149 points scored in their past three contests.
“Our offense is hitting on all cylinders,” Clyburn said. “We were sharp in this game. I guess you could say, as an offense, it was tight.”
Once again, the NC ground game went through Tristan McCathern, who went for more than 130 yards and scored four touchdowns before the game reached intermission. Since being moved from backup quarterback to feature back in game two, the junior has rushed for more than 300 yards.
On Friday, most all of McCathern’s yards against the Panthers came inside the tackles. That was in stark contrast to a year ago when NC attacked the outside in a 44-19 win over McBee.
“Last year,” Clyburn said of the McBee game, “we were able to get to the outside against McBee. This time, we went between the tackles. Our offensive line is doing a great job of knocking people off the football.
“With the way McBee’s pass coverage was set up, they were not going to give you the deep ball. When we saw that, we made some changes in our formation to where we would pick and choose what we wanted to do with either the running game or, the passing game. When they blitzed, we went after them. They were not going to give up the big pass play.”
Combining the ground attack with the air game, NC scored four times over land and twice by air in the first half.
It was McCathern who capped an impressive game-opening drive by going in for the first touchdown in a march in which the NC offensive line exerted their dominance.
“We set the tempo for the night with that first drive,” Clyburn said. “We were getting 10 yards a clip. Our offensive line was blowing their defense up.”
When the Knights wanted to go up top, senior quarterback Grayson King was able to find classmate Anthony Spinelli with a pair of 40-yard passes for touchdowns. The first of the pair saw Spinelli go down the middle of the field for a touchdown. Later, he took a throw on the wheel route and turned it into a score.
Leading, 40-6, late in the second quarter, the NC defense lost focus for a few seconds as an MHS running back broke loose for a 40-yard run to the Knights’ 10. The hosts cashed in on that series and headed to the locker room trailing, 40-12.
“For a half-second,” Clyburn said, “our kids relaxed on defense and they hit us for a big play.”
Not wanting to allow the Panthers to add to their momentum, the Knights sent out their first offense and first defense to open the second half.  A penalty derailed the first NC series as the Panthers took the ball and had an extended scoring drive with their wishbone offense to trim the gap to 40-20.
NC responded with a methodical drive of its own with King firing his third touchdown pass of the night, this a 20-yard hookup with senior tight end J.P. Faulkenberry to increase the lead to 46-20 late in the third quarter.
“In the second half,” Clyburn said, “McBee stacked the box on us. They brought their safety up to the line of scrimmage to try and stop the run. When they did that, Grayson was able to hit J.P. for the touchdown.
“I thought Grayson played pretty well for us, again. He made a nice call on pulling the ball out and running it for a first down on a third and six.”
Clyburn sat King after that series, replacing him with sophomore Hunter Wyant. The defense also was relieved by reserves as MHS tacked on another score to make it 46-26. The Panthers made it a bit more interesting, using a 30-yard catch and run to the NC 10 their tight end, which would help set up a touchdown as the NC lead shrunk to 46-32.
With Wyant calling the signals, the guests closed the scoring with an 80-yard scoring drive capped by a one-yard plunge from sophomore tailback William Jenkins to put the icing on the 20-point win.
After the game, in which his team had to work for what it got, Clyburn said he agreed with Andrew Jackson head coach David Moore and said, “McBee might be the best 0-4 team in the state.”
As for the Knights, Clyburn said his players are playing with confidence. But, again, he warned that his team is not there, yet, and that more work needs to be done on the practice field in order to smooth out some rough spots as they prepare for their annual backyard battle with the Volunteers on Friday.
“It’s like we told our guys after the game,” Clyburn said, “we made some mistakes in this game that we have to get corrected. There are going to be six to eight things that we see on tape that we did wrong in this game and we need to take care of in practice.
“We just have to go back out there and put on our work hat and get our lunch pail and keep working hard. We need to go out there and play and practice like our life depends on it.”

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