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Dogs seek to snap playoff skid

Posted: November 17, 2016 8:49 a.m.
Updated: November 18, 2016 1:00 a.m.
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JO JO WATSON ... CHS wide receiver

In the two weeks since his team’s 70-55 loss to Fairfield Central in the regular season finale, Camden head coach Jimmy Neal has been told of how entertaining of a game it was to watch either from the stands at Zemp Stadium or, on that evening’s live television broadcast of the game.

That does not mean, however, that the 19th year Bulldog boss was happy with the outcome, how his defense played or, how it affected his team and their playoff road. 

In this case, road is the operative term.

After having finished third in Region 4-AAA with a 2-2 league ledger, the Dogs were forced to open the Upper State playoffs away from Zemp. Their journey begins this evening with the lengthy drive to Inman to take on Chapman High School, which after a tie-breaker was put into effect, was declared the second seed out of Region 3.

Two weeks after having allowed 852 yards in offense --- 774 of those on the ground --- in the loss to Fairfield Central, Neal said there will be changes coming on the defensive side of the football for Camden starting this evening. And, if that means some linemen will be asked to play on both sides of the football, then so be it.

“We looked at things a whole lot tougher; maybe, we should have been doing it all along,” Neal said of the intensity of and focusing on the CHS defensive unit over the course of the past two weeks. “We’ve done it all along but maybe, we just didn’t pull the trigger on some things.

“We’ve made some personnel changes and moved some people around, a little bit. I do think, it’s not a guarantee or anything like that, that it’s all going to work out but I do think that our players on the defensive side of the ball for us are really trying to do things the way they are being asked to do it. It wasn’t as if they weren’t doing it before but they get excited and don’t play their responsibilities. They think that playing hard, running around and going after people is the way to do it but you have to play your responsibilities and we haven’t been doing that.”

In being involved with the defense in practice, Neal said he got the feeling that those players were more in tune with playing their position better while carrying out their individual responsibilities.

Neal said that having had an extra week to get ready for the playoffs, while having additional time to purge the FC loss from their collective system, was a boon for the Dogs and their coaching staff. It allowed all parties to take a step back and get their second wind while gearing up for the second season.

“I thought having the week off helped us. It was a tough loss and we didn’t play very well on defense, obviously,” Neal said. “It was good for us to help get our guys’ minds focused and getting them in the right direction. We had a good three days last week and this week of practice was very good.”

What Neal liked about his team’s practices was that the Bulldogs were excited and paid close attention to what their coaches asked them to do and where to be in relation to what they will see from an explosive Panther offensive unit tonight.

“We changed our practice schedule up a bit and sometimes, that throws them off,” Neal said. “It didn’t do that this team. Our guys jumped in there and went after it and did the best they could; you feel good about that.”

While Camden has had two weeks to prepare for tonight’s contest --- marking the third time this season the Dogs have 

had a bye week before a game --- the Panthers have not played since a 33-7 win over Broome on Oct 28.

The three-week layoff between games could be a blessing or a curse for a team. In one respect, it gives those players nursing bumps and bruises  time to heal. On the other side of the coin, three weeks off can allow for a team to get rusty and out of sync while straying from the norm.

A third option is that having so much time to do nothing but practice can allow a coaching staff to work on new plays and formations which Camden has not seen from Chapman this season. Neal said it would be hard to imagine the Panthers staff having done that over the extended layoff.

The hosts, who average scoring better than 42 points per game, can hardly add more to their repertoire than what they already have in place.

“If they put in a whole lot more, they’re crazy,” Neal said, “because what they’re doing is really good. But you just have no way of knowing what they have been doing. Obviously, I’m hoping they’re going to be a little rusty but there are no guarantees.”

The Panthers have junior Colton Bailey (5-8, 151) at quarterback who directs a spread offense which has junior D.J. Twitty (6-0, 195) as the feature back in the one-back, four wide out set. The Panthers will use the run-pass option while one of their most effective plays on offense is the screen pass, more specifically, the tunnel screen.

Neal said that while listening to CHS assistant coach Denny Beckley discuss the type of player Bailey is to his defensive linemen, it reminded him of another Bailey who gave the Camden fits the previous two years. That was Chapin quarterback Logan Bailey, who is now a freshman at The Citadel. 

While the former Chapin standout is bigger and was the 

more punishing runner of the two, Chapman’s quarterback shows similar traits as far as being fast and elusive in and out of the pocket.

When Bailey goes up top, which could be quite often, his favorite targets are Patrick Phongsat and Richard Tucker. 

When Camden has the football, Neal expects Chapman to have four defensive backs that will try and keep everything in front of them. 

Against Fairfield Central, the Griffin defensive backs manned up on the Bulldogs receivers at the line and quarterback Devin Beckley fired seven touchdown passes with Jo Jo Watson being on the receiving end of six of those while Avery Barnes also had a touchdown grab. Neal does not expect the Panthers to employ a similar strategy in the secondary tonight.

“Looking at the matchups,” Neal said of the Chapman secondary and his wide outs, “I think it’s going to be important that they not get on us. I think they feel like they are going to have to stay back against our receivers.”

The Panthers are expected to run a 4-2 scheme which relies on linebacker and leading tackler Anthony Brown to make plays.

While Camden has rarely faced teams from this part of the state, Neal knows what his team will be up against tonight. He also feels his team is ready for the challenge presented by Chapman.

“People you talk to say that they’re a very good team; I don’t argue that one bit,” he said. “A lot of times when you watch a team on film, you’re scared to death on Sunday night and then, the more you watch on Monday and Tuesday, the better you feel. This is a case where the more you watch of them, the worse you feel. I do think we have a good plan, though.”

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