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NC expects to have its hands full with Esaw and Keenan

Posted: October 3, 2013 8:37 a.m.
Updated: October 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A word of caution to those attending tonight’s North Central football game with Keenan at Bolden Stadium in Columbia: Watch out for flying footballs.
In Peter Esaw, the host Raiders have one of the most electrifying players in the state. As a junior, in 2012, Esaw returned eight kicks and/or punts for touchdowns. He has showed no signs of having slowed down this season.
With that in mind, NC head coach Louis Clyburn has all but threatened his kicker and punter to boot the ball where Esaw cannot get to it. And, should that be in the stands, for this Region 3-AA opening game, all the better.
“Peter Esaw may be one of the fastest high school players that I’ve seen in my five years being back in coaching football at the high school level,” Clyburn said.
“This week, we’re going into a game knowing who we have to stop. They have other weapons, they have good team speed, but we know we have to stop him (Esaw) in the return game, number one. We’re going to do everything we can to not kick it to him. And, they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that he’s there to catch the kick.”
The two sides come into tonight’s game in opposite directions. The Knights rebounded from a disappointing 7-6 loss to McBee two weeks ago with a 20-19 victory over rival Andrew Jackson last Friday. Keenan, after having won two in a row, was trampled by 4A York (57-12) last Friday night.
As strong as York is, however, even the Cougars used a variety of sky kicks and short punts in order to limit the damage from Esaw in a game in which Clyburn said both sides had speed to burn.
“York is really fast and Keenan is fast,” Clyburn said. “You watch the York film and it’s like I told our coaches, ‘Let’s take this thing out of fast forward.’”
A year ago, Keenan came into Boonetown and handed the Knights a 39-0 loss, also in the conference opener. The Raiders lined up Esaw in a variety of positions on offense including tailback, wide out and as the quarterback in the wildcat set.  All this was in addition to his duties on special teams.
NC was its own worst enemy in this pairing a year ago.
“We didn’t do anything to help ourself in the first half of that game,” Clyburn said. “We put our defense in a bind, several times, last year. We gave them a short field in the first half and we had the ball in the red zone three different times in the first half and, we didn’t convert. We also had a one-yard punt from our own five-yard line, which is never good.”
As was the case in NC’s week zero game in which they tried to limit the touches of Cardinal Newman tailback Zakki Parker by controlling the football on offense, it is the same strategy which the Knights hope to employ tonight as it relates to Esaw.
“We have to do a good job of sustaining drives and taking advantage of things,” Clyburn said. “If we get it in the red zone, we have to score. Our focus this week and going into the AJ game was making sure that we’re effective when we get the ball in the red zone.
“That has to be the focus when you are playing a team which has a weapon like (Esaw), who can score from any point on the field.”
The NC offense will go up against a large four-man KHS front which is backed by a trio of speedy linebackers. Clyburn said the Knights will continue to show the Raiders several different looks and attack the hosts in different ways.
“It’s hard to beat them deep,” Clyburn said of the passing game against the KHS secondary. “They play a big ol’ cover two or, a tight man coverage. They’re fast and when they play that cover-two, they keep their linebackers in the box so that you can’t beat them deep.
“We have some intermediate passes to try and take advantage of their defense.”
Offensively, the hosts will operate out of the shotgun and will run the read option. And while there might be the inclination to center the defense solely on Esaw, Clyburn said the Raiders have other weapons. One play which they like to run is the pitch option to the other tailback when Esaw is covered up.
“They’re a well-coached and disciplined football team which has a lot of team speed,” Clyburn said of Quin McCollum’s squad.
In addition to tonight kicking off conference play for the Knights, it will make the first time since traveling to meet Cardinal Newman on Aug. 23 that Clyburn and company have played a road game. The past four weeks at Knights Stadium saw NC sport a 2-2 record.
Clyburn laughed when asked about his players’ forgetting what it is like to ride a bus to an away contest.
“We have to clean those things; we haven’t seen them in a month,” he said of the buses. “We have to dust off our seating assignments for away trips and pull that itinerary back out that we use for away trips.
“It’s been nice being in Boonetown, but I’ve always thought of away games as being a positive thing where we can get out and get focused. There are not as many distractions. As a player, I liked getting on that bus and putting on your headset or, reading a book and getting away from school, girlfriends and all that other stuff, and focusing on the task at hand.
“Hopefully, that will pay off for us this week.”

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