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Knights begin playoff push at Chesterfield

Posted: October 20, 2016 10:37 a.m.
Updated: October 21, 2016 1:00 a.m.
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PAT MAJORS ... NC center

There has been no bait and switch or, hiding the facts. When North Central steps on the field for tonight’s game in Chesterfield, the Knights will know where they stand and what they need to do over the course of their final three regular season games.

Having dropped each of their first three Region 4-AA contests, Louis Clyburn’s troops know that if they want to earn one of the five post-season slots awarded to the seven-team conference, they need to get on a roll. That quest begins tonight.

The same thing can be said for the host Rams, who like NC, has had to battle injury problems at the quarterback position. Chesterfield, however, has already dropped four league games and a loss tonight will all but end the playoff hopes for Chris Arnoult’s charges who were expected to compete for the conference crown after returning 12 starters from last year’s 9-3 squad.

The Rams fell to Andrew Jackson last week, 21-14, in the fourth of a six-game 4-AA campaign which opened with a 28-21 loss to unbeaten Lee Central in a game in which Chesterfield had the ball at the LC one but could not score on the game’s final play.

Tonight’s pairing can be viewed as a pre-playoff playoff contest and Clyburn has not shied away from laying the cards on the table before his players.

“It’s huge,” Clyburn said, matter-of-factly, of tonight’s contest. “It’s a very critical game.

“Sometimes, when you’re coaching a football team, there are things you don’t want your players to know and then, there are things you do want them to know. This is kind of unique in that we are not hiding the fact that this is a huge game in terms of which one of us would have a chance to make the playoffs and how we can continue going.

“Sometimes, you don’t want that pressure on your team and you don’t want your kids thinking about it. At the same time, I look at it this way, I want to motivate these young men and want them to understand that if they can go out there and play hard, execute and if we can play our best football of the year, we can win this game and get on a momentum roll and push toward the playoff berth that these seniors and the rest of the guys on this team really want.”

Currently, NC and Chesterfield bring up the rear in a circuit which is topped by Cheraw (4-0), Lee Central (3-0) and Andrew Jackson (3-1) which have all but clinched post-season berths. After the top three are Central and Buford, both at 1-2. NC will close its season with games against those two teams over the coming three weeks with a home game with Buford capping the regular season on Nov. 11.

“It’s a perfect balance for us, right now,” Clyburn said, “that if we can get this game, it can push into the second and third game of this three-game stretch to end the regular season.”

Having just tonight’s game and next week’s game left with Cheraw, the Rams have no wiggle room if they are to be playing come the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 18. The hosts are in a desperate situation but may be starting to get healthy at the right time.

Junior quarterback Savion Watson seems to have thrived in replacing the injured Shyheim Rivers and has thrown for better than 1,600 yards this season with D.J. Lindsey having been on the receiving end for 502 of those yards.

With Rivers calling the signals, CHS rang up 45 points in a season-opening loss to McBee before scoring 47 and 41 points in wins over East Clarendon and Indian Land, respectively, en route to a 3-1 start to the season. With Watson getting more comfortable in his new surroundings, the Rams will look to throw the ball more.

“They went from where they were throwing a lot,” Clyburn said, “to running the ball more. We understand that we need to play good, clean football on offense to control their offense. If we can continue to put six, eight or 10-play drives together, like we have been able to do this season, we can keep their offense off the field and keep them from getting into that scoring rhythm.

“If they get into a rhythm, either throwing or running the football, then your defense is susceptible to the big play because that is what they thrive on.”

The Rams will line up in multiple defensive fronts and are not the typical 4-3 or, 3-4 scheme. Clyburn said CHS likes to blitz and bring pressure from several different places on the field which is what the Knights like to do on defense, as well.

“Fortunately for our offense, that’s what we do so our kids are somewhat used to seeing in practice,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn said that with both teams having gone through injuries to starting quarterback, the two sides are virtual mirror images of each other. For the Knights, it may come down to a game-time decision as to whether or not quarterback Bubba Williamson may be able to make his season debut after a rapid recovery from a shoulder injury in the pres-season.

“He is gaining more and more strength with every practice but it’s kind of like when you don’t lift weights for awhile and you go back in that weight room and you’re sore the day,” Clyburn said of Williamson’s progress. “He’s still experiencing some of that soreness just from the inactivity that he had to have post-surgery. He’s just happy to be running at practice in football pads.

“He is going to be quite rusty, to say the least. But for us, right now, just having somebody available to play the position is valuable to our football team.”

Without Williamson, Tyler Faulkenberry has held down the fort at quarterback along with Jamel Jones and Cedrick Cunningham, the latter two of whom are nursing injuries with Cunningham’s hand injury sidelining him for this game.

Injuries notwithstanding, Clyburn is hoping his team has enough firepower to come home with a win tonight and then, roll the dice against Central and Buford.

“The big thing that I’ve told them is let’s just attack these next three games, have fun and see what happens,” he said.

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