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NC hopes third trip to Columbia is the charm

Posted: October 22, 2013 3:28 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Who needs a fun house or a trip to a haunted house when a visit to Columbia will do the trick?
Already this month, North Central has played two games in the capital city and has left town shaking its collective head after tough losses.
On Oct. 4, the Knights were victims of the Peter Esaw Show as the Keenan speedster scored four times in leading the Raiders to a 40-12 win over Louis Clyburn’s troops in the Region 3-AA opener. Then, last week, a re-energized Eau Claire squad needed overtime to snap a 16-game slide in outlasting the Knights, 28-22. Both those games were played at Bolden Stadium.
The Knights hope a change of scenery will put an end to their Columbia blues when they go across town to Memorial Stadium in a Thursday (7 p.m., note changed starting time) game to take on a struggling Columbia High squad for homecoming.
Columbia High head coach Kemper Amick can relate to the Knights’ problems in his own backyard as his Capitals’ lone win, on Aug. 30, came on the road. Thursday’s hosts are 0-3 in games played at Memorial Stadium this season and have lost their past six games including a 39-15 setback in Pelion last Friday in a contest which was played with a running clock in the second half.
Seeing the Caps struggle is unusual. But when you look at their non-conference slate of games which included pairings with AAA entries A.C. Flora, Dreher and top-ranked Daniel, Amick and company would have been hard-pressed to have come up with a win against competition like that. Clyburn said the humbling losses and slow start in non-region games and then, having to face Fairfield Central and Keenan to open Region 3-AA action may have left Columbia’s heads spinning.
“Columbia had a really tough schedule in the non-region and then, played the toughest part of our region schedule at the beginning of conference play,” Clyburn said. “They really struggled to have any kind of success.”
Clyburn said he hopes that the Caps are down enough, at this late stage of the regular season, to where if the Knights get off to a quick start on Thursday, it might lead to Columbia’s players mumbling to themselves, “here we go again.”
That line of thinking, said the NC boss, is the reason he wants his team to come out and set the tempo in this contest.
“If we can come out and have some early success,” Clyburn said, “we might be able to get them doubting about being able to win this game.”
Seeing as how this is a Thursday game, it has led the NC staff to having to cram things in order to have everything ready to go a day early. Clyburn said he and his staff put in extra hours on Sunday in their meetings and breaking down film of the Capitals.
The early part of this week included non-nonsense practices with time being limited and, of the essence.
“In college and in the NFL,” Clyburn said of playing on Thursday night, “you can practice over the weekend to get ready for the game. In high school, certainly, you can’t do that; you’re not going to practice on Saturday or Sunday.
“We tried to cram more into our practices on Monday and Tuesday than we would if we played on Friday.”
On the positive side, the Columbia defense is similar to what the Knights’ offense has seen the past three weeks. The Caps will play an eight-man front, designed to try and slow down the NC rushing attack, specifically, William Jenkins. The junior tailback is coming off a career-best 198-yard night in the overtime loss to Eau Claire last Friday.
Clyburn said his offense must be successful in other areas in order to unclog the running lanes for Jenkins.
“One of the things we need to get going this week is our passing game,” he said. “We need to hit them with play-action passes and our screen passes to help open things up for William.”
Having one less day of practice has led to NC scaling down its offensive playbook.
“What we have done,” Clyburn said of his team’s offense, “is to pick the plays which have been successful for us over the past three weeks and put them in for this week.
“I thought we were much better in the red zone last week than we have been, aside from the one time we got inside the five and shot ourself in the foot with penalties and a bad snap and we couldn’t punch it in for a touchdown.”
The Capitals have struggled to get into any sort of rhythm on offense. The hosts have not scored more than 15 points in a game all season. Recently, those problems have led to Columbia having to switch offenses to see what, if anything, would help to kick-start a stagnant offense.
Over the past three weeks, Amick and his staff have lined up in the spread formation, the Wing-T and the Power I, just to try and see which one might work. Neither of those schemes has snapped CHS out of its offensive doldrums. Having seen so many different sets in a revolving door style of offense, Clyburn said there is no telling what his defense will get when the Caps have the ball on Thursday.
“Coach (Guy) Eckenroth and I met, at length, on Sunday about their schemes and what they might try this week,” Clyburn said of his team’s defensive coach. “They’re scrambling on offense, right now. Who knows? They may come out in the single wing on Thursday.”
What Clyburn does know is that Columbia has the athletes and a head coach who can beat you. There is no way, he said, that the Capitals have the look of a beaten squad.
“They have athletes. They’re very fast and they are very well-coached,” Clyburn said. “Coach Amick is one of the most well-respected coaches in all of South Carolina.”
With top-ranked Fairfield Central set to invade Boonetown in next Friday’s regular season finale, Clyburn said his team needs a victory on Thursday to build some momentum for that contest as well as for the AA Division II Upper State playoffs which begin on Nov. 8.
With a trio of losses to open league play, NC will probably be on the road for its post-season opener. But Clyburn and company are concerned with the present and not worrying about what lies up the road.
“We are coming off two heart-wrenching losses the past two weeks,” Clyburn said of the defeats to Pelion and Eau Claire. “When we look back on those two ballgames, we know that had things worked out differently for us, we would have a better seed and not be going on the road for the playoffs.
“We really need to have some success on Thursday so that our kids can see that all their hard work is paying off.”

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