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Dogs head to Flora for 4-AAA opener

Posted: October 3, 2013 8:15 a.m.
Updated: October 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

You would think this would be the week in which Jimmy Neal would turn himself into a street corner preacher and talk to his team about retribution and, an eye for an eye.
Rather, the Camden head coach has taken the approach to not so much to turn the other cheek, as staying the course.
Last year, A.C. Flora came into Zemp Stadium and handed the Bulldogs an 84-51 loss in a contest in which then-Falcon head coach Dean Howell refused to call off the proverbial dogs, even scoring a touchdown the game’s final 10 seconds. Tonight, with Reggie Shaw having taken over for Howell, who is now at White Knoll, the Dogs head to Memorial Stadium in Columbia to meet the new-look Falcs.
If payback was talked about this week in practice, it has not come for the lips of either Neal or his staff.
“It hasn’t even been mentioned … it hasn’t even come up,” Neal said when asked about last year’s controversial pairing between the two sides.
“That’s not part of what we’re doing. Hopefully, we’re driving forward. It’s all about this year, the next day and how we can become better. Other than what they did this to us last year, as far as a play, a pass route or something like that, nothing has been said about last year’s game.”
Tonight, both sides bring a ton of momentum into the Region 4-AAA opener. For the Falcons, they have rebounded from three losses --- by a combined 14 points --- to begin the season by thumping Columbia and Airport the past two weeks. Camden also brings a two-game streak into the capital city with double-digits victories over Lugoff-Elgin and Lakewood, which followed the Dogs’ lone loss of the year to second-ranked Hartsville.
The Falcons lost seat-squirmers to White Knoll, Gilbert and Bluffton in the first three weeks of the season. Neal said with so many new faces on the field and, with Shaw on the sidelines for the first time, A.C. Flora may have been going through a feeling-out process. These past two weeks, the CHS head coach said, Flora looks more like the team which rolled to the past three Region 4-AAA titles.
“I think they’re getting used to each other,” Neal said.
“They’re very close to being 5-0, right now. They’re a good club and they’ve played some good competition. The last two weeks, they’ve obviously played better.”
Over the past two weeks, Camden has also found its groove, especially on the ground. In last Friday’s 48-20 victory over Lakewood, senior tailback Brandon Hampton went for career-bests with 169 yards and four touchdowns. His junior backfield partner, Kendrice Slater, rushed for 81 yards before being removed from the game after Neal went to his bench starting late in the third quarter.
Defensively in Sumter County, the Dogs scored on a safety, a fumble recovery while also picking off a pass in a dominating performance by the first 11.
Neal said he likes what he has seen from both sides of the ball on the field, but even more, in practice. In the same breath, though, he said the Dogs can hardly afford to rest on their laurels.
“I’m really proud of their continued improvement; that’s because they have practiced well and practiced hard,” he said. “They’ve done some good things. We’ve made a lot of progress and continue to make progress. If you don’t do that, then you’re backing up and people are gaining on you.  You have two choices: get better or, get worse.”
Neal said his team got better this week, aside for a blip on the radar on Tuesday. But that, too, he said, was not the end of the world as his team was still in the learning stage as to what they could see from the Falcons this evening.
The A.C. Flora offense has sophomore Brendan Greene at quarterback following the graduation of 2012 Region 4-AAA most valuable player Jake Lewis. It was Lewis who made the Falcons go. And, Neal said, it took the offense a little time to starting getting into gear with Greene taking over under center.
“They have a sophomore quarterback and they don’t do quite as much as they did last year, at this point in the season. (Lewis) was pretty special,” Neal said. “They’re still running the loaded option and the belly play. It’s almost the exact same stuff as last year.”
Camden must keep an eye out for tailback Aven Pollard. The 5-foot-8, 172-pound senior is the Falcons’ go-to player on offense. He is a major cog in both the running and, passing games. “Pollard is a good player and they get the ball to him in as many ways as they possibly can,” Neal said. “You have to find him and know where he is.”
In junior Denzel Johnson (6-2, 187), the Falcons have an explosive wide receiver who is attracting attention from several Division I programs.
Flora also has a Division I prospect on defense in junior strong safety Rion Davis (6-1, 184), who also stars for the Falcons on the basketball court. He lines up behind a line which includes tackle Josh Blackmon (6-0, 273) and end Clarence Watson (5-11, 170).
Neal said the A.C. Flora defense has played well throughout the majority of the season and are getting better with each game.
“They have some very talented guys on defense,” he said. “Blackmon is really good on the line and Watson is pretty fast at defensive end. They play hard and they play fast on defense.
“They’re pretty sound on offense and defense. You had better be sharp and, you had better be prepared when you play them.”
The Falcons are also playing with a sense of confidence which comes from having won three straight conference titles and playing in the AAA Lower State title game in 2011. Even though A.C. Flora has lost seven of eight all-region selections from 2012, Neal said this team is playing like one which has become used to winning and are bent on adding to that in 2013
“They’ve been very successful the past couple years and they expect to be successful now,” Neal said. “And, they’re playing that way.”

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