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Knights ready to celebrate Homecoming with struggling Red Devils coming to town

Posted: September 22, 2016 9:16 a.m.
Updated: September 23, 2016 1:00 a.m.
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CHRIS SIMS ... NC defensive back

For a North Central football team which is licking its wounds after having been shut out by neighboring rival Andrew Jackson last week, there may be no better salve than having Homecoming this week. It may not hurt having a struggling Great Falls squad in town to provide the opposition, either.

For years, the Red Devils were one of the top programs in the state class A ranks. Great Falls won the class A Division 1 state title in 1991 and always fielded one of the most athletic teams in the state.

Recently, however, Great Falls has fallen on hard times. Last year, in Ken Schofield’s final season at the helm, the Red Devils finished with a 1-10 record. Under first-year head coach John Barrett they are 0-5 in 2016 including having forfeited last week’s game with the Carolina Wildcats due to a lack of players.

On Wednesday, NC boss Louis Clyburn was reassured by Barrett that Great Falls would have enough healthy bodies to play against the Knights, which was good news for the NC coaches, players, staff and alumni who will now have a game to get ready for rather than an opponent pulling a no-show.

“Great Falls is always an athletic team and they have had success as recently as three or four years ago,” Clyburn said. “Their numbers have dipped a little bit and they had a ballgame (last week), a non-High School League game, which I think was the reason they decided to forfeit and get those kids healthy again.”

Some of the players’ ailments could stem from the fact that the Red Devils were coming off a 77-22 loss to Ware Shoals the previous week in a contest in which the Fighting Hornets rebounded from an early 22-0 hole to score 77 unanswered points. In the season opener against New Covenant, GF played well in the early going only to fizzle as the game went along in a 56-13 loss. 

Clyburn suspects that the lack of depth and having to keep players on the field the entire game wore the Red Devils down and then out in their four setbacks.

“They have jumped up early on some teams and then have kind of folded later on in the game,” he said, “be that because of depth or lack of concentration, it’s hard to tell. Given the familiarity between our school and them, we know that they always play hard and that they are a fast and tough football team.

“We lost to them the last time we played them so, going into this football game, we want to get off of that skid. Certainly, Homecoming makes this a big game for us.”

Not only did Great Falls win its last meeting with their former Region 3-A rivals in 2011, but they won the previous 12 games with North Central.

For the Knights to snap that extended skid, they will have to keep an eye on GF senior tailback Aaron Rice, who is the hosts’ chief big-play threat.

“They spread it out and will get into the empty (backfield) set,” Clyburn said of the Red Devils’ offensive plan of attack. “We’ll have our work cut out for us in making sure that we’re aligned correctly on defense. Anytime you play a team which has multiple spread fronts and you have a team that blitzes like we do, you can’t blitz if you’re assigned to cover somebody. That’s something we have to get used to if there are trips or quads to your side of the field. We want to make sure that we have our assignments covered.”

Defensively, the Red Devils have allowed 197 points in the four games they have played. 

“They’re very aggressive and they’re fast,” Clyburn said of the GF defense and its four-man front which is what NC faced last week against AJ. “The challenge this week, as it was last week and we fell short in it, is that we have to win the line of scrimmage. It was a back and forth battle along the line of scrimmage through three quarters against Andrew Jackson.

“We challenged both our offensive and our defensive lines to finish this week and I think they’re going to respond to that challenge.”Clyburn said his team has enjoyed a good week of practice in getting ready for tonight’s contest. Among the changes in Boonetown was the adding of responsibilities to several of his assistant coaches including David Moore with the defense, Mitch Lowder with special teams and Robbie Cash with the offense.“We divvied out responsibilities, allowing me to focus and help in some other situations during the game and maybe look at some of the things going on at different positions on both offense and defense,” Clyburn said of the mid-season tweaks. “As a head coach, doing that can pay dividends and it has been good for all of us at practice this week.”Clyburn said another positive from this week has been the younger players on his team stepping up and joining the seniors in taking leadership roles. That type of commitment from all parties can only help as the Knights look to flush the loss to Andrew Jackson and move forward.“After the Andrew Jackson game,” Clyburn said, “I told our guys that the only way to get rid of that feeling when you don’t feel that you played your best ballgame is to go out and play again. This is an opportunity for us to go out and play against and it’s another opportunity for us to get on the winning side with our record and to get some momentum going into conference play. But it’s not just going to happen for us. We have to play well if we want to beat Great Falls.“It has been a good week of practice. I’m excited to come out and watch these young men play and watch our coaches coach on Friday night.”

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