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Buford runs past Knights and into playoffs

Posted: November 14, 2016 4:33 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2016 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I photo/

NORTH CENTRAL’S ZACH JONES wraps up Buford tailback Isaah Nesbitt in the backfield for a loss of yardage in Friday’s game in Boonetown.

Rarely at a loss for words, North Central head football coach Louis Clyburn spent the better part of the second half of his team’s football season trying to come up with answers for his team’s problems hanging onto the ball.

After the Knights turned the ball over four times in the second half of Friday’s season-ending 46-21 loss to visiting Buford, the eighth-year Knights head coach was flummoxed in trying to describe his team’s rash of miscues, especially those coming after halftime.

“Second half turnovers have haunted the Knights over the past four games and I can’t explain why,” he said following a loss in which his team was outscored, 21-0, in the second half.

The setback left NC with a final 3-7 mark and, 0-6 in Region 4-AA, while Buford closed with the same final record but with a 2-5 conference ledger and a berth in Friday’s first round of the state playoffs.

The Yellow Jackets turned an NC fumble into the game’s final seven points but could not capitalize on three second half interceptions on a cold and windy evening in Boonetown. The game also marked the season debut of junior starting quarterback Bubba Williamson after suffering a shoulder injury sustained in the pre-season. Also back in the fold for the hosts was senior Mr. Football candidate Cedrick Cunningham, playing for the first time since injuring his right hand in a loss to Cheraw in game seven.

It was the first time all year in which the Knights had the duo on the field together but it was not enough as this night belonged to the BHS twosome of tailback Isaah Nesbitt and quarterback Ryan Moore. Nesbitt, a senior, ran for 275 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries while Moore, a junior, ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries while completing six of 10 passes for 100 yards with one going for a touchdown.

The Yellow Jacket tandem combined to give the NC defense headaches all night.

“You know what’s funny,” Clyburn said, “is that they’ve been able to run the football all year but they struggled with turnovers early in the season. That’s why they lost some close games. We got a couple from them tonight but we were not able to win (the turnover battle.)”

The Jackets carried a tenuous 25-21 lead into the locker room at halftime but came out in the third quarter with what would become a clinching 73-yard drive which used up a little more than two minutes on just five snaps. The final play of the march came on a 39-yard tunnel screen from Moore to Dalton Small, whose 29-yard run on second down got the guests into NC territory.

Leading by 11, at 32-21, Buford’s Rhylee Blackmon picked off a pass on NC’s first play of the second half at the NC 44. The Knights’ defense returned the favor with Cunningham picking off a Moore pass on third and 25 from the BHS 41.

The momentum the Knights gained from the pick did not last long as on third and seven from the Buford 30, the Jackets’ Austin Gregory came up with an interception to stunt an NC scoring opportunity.

Clyburn said the Knights had the right call on both passes but the execution was lacking.”We had two great plays called,” he said of the two picks by BHS.

Once again, the Knights’ defense came up with a stop and forced an incompletion on fourth down to take over from their own 29.

Buford put this one out of reach with touchdowns on their next two offensive series.

The first, following an NC three and out, was a nine-play, 62-yard series which included Moore scampering for 11 yards on third and inches from the Knights’ 26. Two plays later, Nesbitt went for an 11-yard touchdown on a speed sweep from five yards out to make it 39-21 with 6:24 showing on the fourth quarter clock. An NC fumble on the next play from scrimmage turned the ball over to Buford at the NC 39.

It took the guests seven plays to find the end zone with Nesbitt going for 14, 10 and 13 yards on successive carries. Senior fullback Davis Teague got the call on the final two plays, rushing for five yards and then from inside the one for the score which made it 46-21 with 3:30 left.

After a first half in which the Knights ran 26 plays for 139 yards, the hosts were held to 28 yards in a mistake-plagued second 24 minutes in which the Yellow Jackets took advantage of the trio of NC turnovers and held the ball for 29 plays while piling up 242 of their 492 yards in offense.

The Knights, who needed more than just a bit of luck with the numbers to have a chance to reach the postseason, came out clicking on the first offensive series on Senior Night.

Going up top early and often, sophomore quarterback Tyler Faulkenberry hit on each of his first three passes with the third going to DaShon Belton along the line of scrimmage with the senior rumbling 36 yards to the BHS 33. On third and three from the 15, Cunningham went for six yards on a counter. On fourth and goal from the three, Cunningham would again get the call and after being hit at the two, he never stopped churning his legs as on second effort, he stretched his body and the ball into the end zone for the game-opening score and a 6-0 NC lead at the 6:53 marker of the first quarter.

It took BHS three plays to level things with a drive aided by a pair of NC penalties. Nesbitt went the final 43 yards of the 56-yard drive as he broke through arm tackles at the 40 and, again at the 30, on his way to paydirt to knot things at 6-6 with 6:20 left in the opening stanza.

The fast-paced opening was kicked up when Bethea took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the BHS 10. It was then that Clyburn sent Williamson to the field for his first snap of the season and the junior delivered by hooking up with Markel Portee on a pretty fade pattern pass in the back right corner of the end zone. Williamson then zipped a pass to Faulkenberry who tapped both feet inbounds the upper right hand corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion pass and the 14-6 lead with 5:59 still left in the first.

BHS slowed things down a tad after taking over via a punt at its own 22. Moore called his own number on the first two plays, following up a 14-yard carry with one of nine yards to the 45. Later in the drive, Moore took off for 14 yards on a third and six from the NC 46. The 10-play series closed with Nesbitt sweeping left end for the score on first down at the 15. An incomplete pass allowed NC to stay on top, 14-12, with 8:33 to play in the first half.

Just as things seemed to start settling down, they blew up again.

The Yellow Jackets reignited the scoring with a five-play scoring drive that started from their 40 and ended with Moore taking a hit, staying upright and skirting the sidelines for the 15-yard run into the end zone for the 18-14 lead with 5:09 showing on the first half clock.

NC would go back on top thanks to a four-play, 52-yard drive in which the Knights dived into their bag of tricks on a fourth and four call from the BHS 46. Faulkenberry handed the ball to Cunningham who went to his right before stopping and lofting a scoring toss to a wide-open Portee. Dani Martinez then booted home the kick and with 3:20 left before the break, NC was back on top at 20-18.

Not shying away, the Jackets countered with an eight-play march which began at their 43 and included a 14-yard Nesbitt run before Moore found Matthew Hunter over the middle with a 16-yard completion on third and six from the NC 39. 

NC’s defense helped the Jackets along with their fifth offside penalty of the first half. This one came on second and goal from the nine.

“Our defense is very aggressive but we had way too many offside penalties that helped extend their drives,” Clyburn said. “We certainly work on that and we change the snap count every day in practice.

“I think that early in the game, we were maybe a little too pumped up. We had an aggressive game plan on defense. We were going to make them have to pass the ball to beat us.”

The penalty gave the Jackets a second and goal from inside the five. On third down from the two, Moore went over left guard on the keeper for the touchdown which gave the visitors the 25-21 lead at the midway mark.

The BHS defense held Cunningham in check in the first half as he gained 29 yards on 13 carries before going for 42 on three second half runs. He finished the season with 1,036 rushing yards in seven and a quarter games played. The Knights’ completed half of their 14 passes for 96 yards with 46 of those coming on Cunningham’s halfback option throw for a touchdown.

Clyburn said his offense was clicking in the first half but was bogged down by mistakes in the third and fourth quarters. He attributed some of the problems to players who had not been on the field together since pre-season camp trying to adjust to each other in mid-November after having had a bye week.

The rust, he said, was evident.

“Offensively, we were able to get into a little rhythm in the first half,” he said of the two halves. “Those are things that happen when you don’t play and have two weeks off. It’s great for injuries but not for your rhythm. Football teams that are really good and who are going to the playoffs get that rhythm at the end of the season that you really can’t describe. They know what each other is doing.

“Football’s about rhythm and it’s also about chemistry and that’s the thing that was so frustrating. It was great for our kids because they never flinched, they would say, ‘Coach, I’ll play corner, I’ll play tight end, I’ll play linebacker.’ 

“We moved kids around all season long but it’s just hard to get that chemistry. That’s what’s been hard about this season. That was our biggest hurdle and our guys were jumping over it but it was just tough.”

As he looked back on a season which looked promising before Williamson’s injury touched off a seemingly endless string of ailments, Clyburn was left to wonder “what if” as he prepared to leave the field.

“The team we had out there on Aug. first when we had our conditioning tests, I would have loved to have seen that team go all the way through the season … it just didn’t happen,” he said. “It was good for those guys to fight and scratch, though. This was a fun group to coach. The effort was there and the willingness to do whatever it took was what made it fun to coach these guys.”

 

Knight Lights: Friday’s game was nearly moved to Zemp Stadium in Camden when it was discovered that the home side stands at Knights Stadium had some damage. It was not until early on game day that the structure was deemed safe for fans. Just in case, however, the top three rows of the stands were outlined with yellow police tape with Kershaw County School District Executive Director of Operations, Billy Smith, standing guard in the closed off area in order to make sure fans did not find their way to those seats … In addition to running for and throwing a touchdown pass, Cunningham also registered a team-best 14 tackles. The West Point commit also picked off a pass … Senior linebacker DeAunte Samuel was next with 11 tackles while causing and recovering a fumble. Another senior, Zeidel Clark, had eight tackles including six solo stops … NC’s second half struggles came into play in its final game. In 10 games this season, the Knights were outscored by a combined 188-50 count after having been outscored 135-129 in the first 24 minutes of play.


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