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Hard-luck Knights fall to Rocks in OT

Posted: October 19, 2013 1:53 p.m.
Updated: October 21, 2013 5:00 a.m.

NC’S OMAR JOHNSON RETURNED an interception for a 35-yard touchdown in Friay’s loss to Eau Claire. The senior linebacker has three interception returns for touchdowns this season.

Louis Clyburn must be wondering what he and his team might have done to deserve the type of treatment they are getting from the football gods.
For the second time this season, North Central dropped an overtime contest in Columbia. The latest came on Friday at Bolden Stadium as Eau Claire snapped a 16-game skid with a 28-22 victory over Clyburn and the visiting Knights.
NC fell to 3-5 on the season and 0-3 in Region 3-AA play with its third loss by six points or less this year.
Clyburn, the Knights’ fifth-year head coach, could only raise his hands as to what has caused his team to be snake-bit so many times this season.
“I’ve never been part of a team which has been so close only to lose so many close games as this one has,” he said.
Bu the former Camden High and Duke University offensive lineman was not about to lay all the blame for the loss on bad luck. On the other side of the coin, he said it was a well-prepared Shamrock squad which came out with plenty of enthusiasm on senior night and deserved the victory.
“We just ran into a very fast team which had some kids come off the injured reserve list in time for this game because we hadn’t seen a bunch of them on any of their films,” he said. “Give credit to their kids for playing hard. But our kids also played hard.”
Coming into his team’s second trip to Bolden Stadium this season, Clyburn and the Knights’ defense were concerned as to the playmaking ability of Shamrocks’ wide receiver Wallace Greene and his potential to do damage. Friday night, NC’s worst fears were realized as it was Greene who torched the visitors with the big play.
For the most part, the visitors held the EC offense in check. But Greene came up big on two key occasions.
“We must have held them to minus yardage on about 30 plays,” Clyburn said of his defense. “But (Wallace) had about 250 yards on three plays by himself. We would pressure their quarterback and pressure their quarterback some more. Then, he would find Wallace on a pass play.
“Wallace is all that and a bowl of grits. He is tough.”
The Knights were on the brink of putting this game away as they drove from their own 20 to the EC three yard line with some three minutes left inthe game and looking to add to a 22-14 lead.
On second and goal from the three, the guests were hit with an illegal procedure penalty. With the EC band playing loudly, Clyburn decided to go under center for a second down snap. A fumbled snap resulted in a loss of 12 yards to the 20. After another illegal procedure call went against the Knights, they found themselves facing a fourth and goal from the 25.
“We don’t have many plays we can dial up on fourth and goal from the 25,” Clyburn said. A pass from Hunter Wyant to Antonio Parks was off the mark as the Shamrocks got the ball back with less than two minutes to play.
That was more than enough time for Thompson to hit Wallace on a slant pattern. NC had players in position to make the tackles, but Wallace was too elusive and fast as he went into the end zone with the 75-yard pass play which was followed by a successful two-point conversion which evened things at 22 while sending the game into overtime.
Earlier this season, NC lost to Cardinal Newman, 12-6, in a controversial overtime finish. This time, there was not as much controversy as to the finish of the game.
The Shamrocks lost the toss and got the ball first at the 10 yard line. An eight-yard first down run to the two was followed by NC stuffing the second down carry for a loss of three yards. On third and five from the five, EC used a sweep to get into the end zone. The two-point conversion run was snuffed out as the Rocks had a 28-22 advantage.
The Knights opened their series with a three-yard carry from William Jenkins to the seven. An illegal procedure call against the guests brought the ball to the 12. NC then recovered its own fumble for a loss of eight, setting up a third and goal from the 20.
Jenkins took off for 13 yards on third down, setting up and fourth and seven. The Knights would never be able to run their play as an early snap resulted in a fumble which killed any chance which the called-in play had of working as the game ended.
The evening opened with the two sides exchanging punts. Clyburn said he second-guessed himself about not running a fake punt with Jenkins when his team faced a fourth and two from their own 35. But Jenkins and the punt cover team had been playing well lately and Clyburn decided to punt the ball on a night in which Jenkins averaged 35.7 yards per punt on three calls.
“William did a great job of punting the ball away from Wallace,” Clyburn said. “And our cover team did a great job of not allowing them to get many yards on punt returns all night.”
It was the NC defense which got the scoring started when senior linebacker Omar Johnson picked off a Thompson pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. It was Johnson’s third pick six of the season. The Knights then went to the “water bucket” formation on the two-point conversion play and it was successful with Wyant hitting Parks with the two-point conversion pass and an 8-0 first quarter lead.
The hosts came right back and after finding nothing on the ground against the NC defense, used an 82-yard Thompson-to-Wallace touchdown pass to close the gap to 8-6.
“Wallace has unreal speed,” Clyburn said. “He just ran to the middle of the field, reached up, snared the ball and then, made two of our guys miss him.”
Later in the half, an EC linebacker tipped a pass resulting in an interception to give the Shamrocks the ball at the NC 35. The home team used a dive-option carry to score the go-ahead touchdown and used a pass from Thompson to Wallace for the two-point conversion and a 14-8 halftime lead.
“Our game plan was to run the ball, play good defense and not be too risky on offense,” Clyburn said. “In the film we had on Eau Claire, it seemed like they always started out well in the first half of their games. But they played better than they ever had against us.”
Making halftime adjustments, Clyburn said his offense needed to get bigger plays out the outside from his team’s skill players. Until that happened, Clyburn said, Eau Claire was going to load the box to try and take away the NC running game.
That did not work for the Rocks as Jenkins went for 198 yards on 37 carries.
NC evened things at 14 with an 80-yard drive capped by a 20-yard Wyant-to-Warren Moseley scoring pass on a corner route off a play fake. The PAT kick try failed to keep things event.
After getting a stop from their defense, the Knights took over at their own eight. With Jenkins getting “all you can stand,” Clyburn said of his junior tailback carrying the football, it was Jenkins who ended the 92-yard drive with a six-yard scoring run. He then carried in the two-point conversion as the guests held a 22-14 advantage after three quarters.
Clyburn said he bottom-lined it when he talked to his team.
“I told them that the big plays killed us and that if we hit some big plays, we might have won the ballgame” he said. “That was a perfect example of a team (Eau Claire) persevering and playing hard all night. They just made one more play than we did.
“As for our team, we need to get some big plays on offense. We’re going to continue to work on that.”
Calling this a “very frustrating night,” Clyburn said his team has no other choice than to put this loss behind them and get back to work for Thursday’s game with Columbia at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.
“We are going to come back on Monday and go back to work on the practice field and get ready to try and win a game against Columbia,” he said.


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