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Knights need win tonight and luck to get into playoffs

Posted: November 10, 2016 9:52 a.m.
Updated: November 11, 2016 1:00 a.m.
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JEREMIAH JENKINS ... NC offensive lineman

Without a plan for a football tie-breaker in place in Region 4-AA, athletic directors from the seven schools met in the middle of the week to try and figure the best and most equal method to decipher how things would shake out following tonight’s final set of games.

By the end of this evening, there could be ties at the top and at the bottom of the circuit. How those will be broken and which teams go where for the start of the playoffs next week were to have been determined. during the conference.

One of the hot-button topics the athletic directors was expected to address was that of a cap for the number of points which a team won by which would count toward a tie-breaker. That, said NC head coach Louis Clyburn, is something which NC’s former region had and was put at 21. By having that in place, it prevented teams from running up the scores in games in order to enhance their playoff possibilities in the event of a tie at season’s end.

North Central is included in a three-team mix, along with Buford and Chesterfield, the former of which will come to Boonetown for tonight’s Senior Night regular season finale. 

The host Knights lost to Chesterfield last month, 45-0, for the Rams’ lone 4-AA victory. Buford has a 45-35 win over Chesterfield for its only league win. A North Central win over the Yellow Jackets tonight would put the three teams battling for the region’s final postseason berth into a three-way tie and would leave things up to the decision of the athletic directors from their meeting.

Clyburn is trying to keep the numbers and what decides who will still be playing next week out of the heads of his players. His mindset is one in which just win tonight and let the mathematics part of the equation take care of itself.

“What we have to do and what our best situation is, is that we have to beat Buford,” Clyburn said of his team’s main interest coming into this game. “If we don’t beat Buford, then Buford is in the playoffs; there is no tie and there is no discussion. That’s what we’re telling our kids.”

The Knights had last week off as they rescheduled this game from its original Oct. 14 date when the South Carolina High School League moved the start of the playoffs back two weeks due to Hurricane Matthew. 

NC is coming off a 53-12 loss to Central in its last start. After that, Central knocked off a Lee Central squad which opened the season with seven straight wins. That, Clyburn said, is an example of the strength of Region 4-AA.

“Central, who was at the bottom of our region in third or fourth place a few weeks ago,” he said, “beat Lee Central right after they beat us and jumped right back into the thick of things. And, Chesterfield, who won our conference last year, has gone from first to worst. It just goes to show how tough our region is.”

This has been a rough year for the Knights, as well. In addition to seeking that first conference victory, the injury bug has plagued Clyburn and company. Injuries have taken out starting quarterback Bubba Williamson for the first nine games and, more recently, starting tailback/safety Cedrick Cunningham along with linebacker/wide receiver Jamel Jones and two-way lineman Gwenden Baldwin have been felled by various ailments.

“It’s like losing two starters when those guys are out,” Clyburn said. “Our staff and our kids have done a great job with all these injuries, though. We’ve had an upbeat attitude in practice. These are things that we can’t control and that’s what we’ve sold to them. What we have to do is control the things we can and get better at the things we’re trying to do.”

Clyburn said he is unsure as to which of those key players may be able to play tonight.

“We’ll see what happens. There are going to be a lot of guys who are going to be game-time decisions as it pertains to their ability to play,” Clyburn said of his walking wounded.

“There’s a lot of question marks.”

Williamson still has a lot of “catching up to do” Clyburn said of Williamson’s availability tonight. “He’s been cleared from the injury but there’s a lot more that goes into it before we determine that it’s safe to put that young man on the field.”

What Clyburn said his team needs to do is to get a handle on the rash of turnovers that have been the Knights’ Achilles heel the past two games. “If we’re going to have a tight ballgame,” he said, “we can’t turn the ball over.”

As for the Yellow Jackets, they will bring a 2-7 record into tonight’s contest with their only other win, outside of the one over Chesterfield, coming in the season opener against Franklin Christian.

Buford has made a 180-degree turn from the days when Ernie Hughes brought the Wing-T offensive scheme to Lancaster County. Under third-year head coach Tripp Watts, the guests are in the spread formation and the Jackets are averaging 25 points per game out of the set.

Junior quarterback Shylyn Wright can throw the ball but is also a threat to run with it in a two-quarterback system which features tailback Isaah Nesbit, who is close to rushing for 1,000 yards this season, leading the ground attack for an offense which still relies on running the football while also trying to hit the Knights’ defense up for yards in the short passing game.

“Coach Watts has put his stamp on the team,” Clyburn said of Buford. “The one thing that hasn’t changed is that they are a scrappy group. Any time you play Buford, you know it’s going to be a physical battle; that’s kind of been their trademark since Coach Hughes was there.”

Defensively, the Jackets will switch up from a four- to a three-man front, just like the Knights will do on that side of the football. Clyburn said he hopes since his offense has seen both schemes every day in practice, it will help get things rolling tonight in a game which he believes will have a playoff feel to it given this is the second week of November.

“Playing in November is a neat deal,” he said. “There’s a lot of motivation for our kids to play hard in this game and, if we make the playoffs, great but if we don’t … It’s like we told our seniors, with the season we’ve had with these injuries we’ve had, we’ve had a lot of young guys playing which will give us experience going into next season.

“We’re looking at this as a one-game season and we want to finish this thing and let it be the start of next year with these young guys and let the experience they’ve gained catapult us forward.”

 

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