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Knights hold their own in loss to FC

Posted: November 2, 2013 1:37 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Playing the top-ranked team in the state requires some adjusting on your part.
When Fairfield Central took the field at Knights Stadium to meet host North Central, the unbeaten visitors carried the number rank ranking among all AA schools in the state. Demetrius Davis’s squad also suited up some 60 players. So, at first, the intimidation factor was there.
It took one series for North Central to figure out it belonged on the same field as the visitors from Winnsboro. By then, though, the Griffins (10-0, 5-0 in Region 3-AA) had already scored all the points they would need in what turned out to be a 19-0 victory on a rainy Friday night in Boonetown.
“I think our kids were a little surprised, initially,” said NC head coach Louis Clyburn. “They dressed out all those kids and that first touchdown came pretty easily for them.
“After that, I thought our kids settled in and figured that they were as good as (FC) and, it became a slugfest.”
NC (3-7, 0-5 in 3-AA) was forced to wait until Saturday night, after Chesterfield played Cheraw, to learn who it would face in Friday’s first round of the AA Division II playoffs. If Chesterfield won that game by 14 or more points, the Knights will head to Pageland to meet Central on Friday. If Cheraw wins or loses by 14 or less points, NC will head to Chesterfield in round one action.
As for the game with FC, played in soggy conditions, Clyburn said the wet grounds did not keep either team from doing what it intended to do. But a non-call and a penalty call prevented the Knights from springing the upset.
The first call came when NC linebacker Omar Johnson stripped a Griffin runner of the ball and took off for an apparent 40-yard touchdown run. But a clip was called, well behind the play, Clyburn said, taking the score off the board.
The penalty which the NC staff argued about also came in the second quarter when Compton Walker retrieved a booming William Jenkins punt at his own 15. Walker was the beneficiary, Clyburn claimed, of a clip in front of the Knights’ bench which helped spring him for the 85-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 19-0 lead with six minutes left in the first half.
“We wanted to punt the ball out and bounds so they couldn’t return it,” Clyburn said of the special teams’ strategy. “But William boomed one over (Walker’s) head. Our guys thought we were going to down the ball but he sprinted back, picked the ball up and turned around and ran with it. We thought he would just let it roll.”
The first Griffin touchdown of the three they scored, all in the first 18 minutes of play, came after NC decided to try a fake punt on its first possession. That led to FC taking over near midfield with Joseph Young capping the drive with a three-yard run with 7:58 left in the first quarter.
A little more than seven minutes later, Young capped a second FC march by sprinting into the end zone from 33 yards out with 100 seconds left in the first quarter.
Johnson’s strip came in between Young’s second scoring run and Walker’s punt return for a touchdown. It was also part of a second quarter in which NC defensive back Curtis Merritt picked off a DeAndre Belton pass in the end zone on a play in which Merritt batted the ball into the air and then, came down with the pick to kill a scoring chance for the guests
“Our defense played well enough for us to win,” Clyburn said. “We had two goal-line stands and created turnovers inside of our own five.
“I don’t think (FC) had been hit in a game this season like we hit them in this game. I don’t think they were anticipating that from us. I would also think this was the first time all season they went an entire half without scoring a point.”
After the first series, Clyburn said his team was not intimidated and followed their coaches’ game plan for the remainder of the night.
“I thought our coaches came up with a great plan for this game,” Clyburn said. “Fairfield Central just has some great skill position players and, ultimately, they were the difference in the ballgame.”
NC opened the second half by recovering an onsides kick, but was unable to capitalize on it in a third quarter in which Clyburn said his team had two scoring chances go by the boards.
Clyburn said his team’s offensive philosophy on Friday was to pound and keep the football on the ground while taking pressure off quarterback Hunter Wyant. Clyburn said his junior signal-caller carried out the game plan and kept the Knights in the game until the end.
“Our offense did not do anything to put us in a negative situation,” said the fifth-year NC head coach. “Our offense just could not match their speed on defense.”
The Knights will enter the state playoffs as a 12th seed, and a dangerous one, at that. Fairfield Central will have a first round bye in the AA Division I tournament.
“We have to be one of the best 12 seeds in the playoffs,” Clyburn said. “It’s like Demetrius (Davis) said to me after the game, that if he were a number five seed, he wouldn’t want to play us.”

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