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Furious NC rally comes up short in 56-36 defeat

Season finale is final game for Knights’ assistant Mitch Lowder

Posted: October 30, 2017 3:16 p.m.
Updated: October 31, 2017 1:00 a.m.

One final shootout at the OK Corral or, in this case, Knights Stadium in Boonetown. 

Friday night, North Central played its final regular season contest of the 2017 campaign and fell to the visiting Central Eagles, 56-36. The setback ended Tyronne Drakeford’s first year as the Knights’ head coach with a 2-8 record and 0-6 in the Region 4-AA. There were, however, bright spots on this Senior Night game. 

Senior quarterback Michael “Bubba” Williamson played about as one would imagine in his final game as the Knights’ signal caller. The Western Carolina commit slinged it nearly 30 times in the loss and even brought it to a six-point game at the start of the fourth quarter. But NC just didn’t have enough left and ran out of gas against a very talented Central (7-3, 5-2) squad that simply pulled away late in the contest. 

The Knights battled however. They were down, 28-6, at halftime and then outscored the opposition, 30-28, in the final 24 minutes of play. 

“I told them during halftime that with everything that happened just to keep plugging away,” Drakeford said. “I was hoping from the defensive side that if we could make just one more stop. We cut it within one score but every time something good happened, they would go back up. That’s a talented offensive team; we just didn’t have enough firepower.” 

In a second half in which the offenses moved the ball at will, NC had trouble just getting a yard in the opening quarter. The Knights turned the ball over twice in five plays and then had a quick three and out after that. All this led to a quick three scores by the Eagles as they jumped out to a 21-0 lead. A couple touchdown runs by Tyquadrick Miller and Central seemed to be well in control to start the second stanza. 

“I really don’t know there, it all went by so quick,” Drakeford in describing the first half. “We were trying to figure ourselves out while we were trying to figure out what they were giving us. We were trying to finish plays, which has been part of our problem all year … just simply finishing plays. We found a way to make those in the second half, it just wasn’t enough.”

The Knights would get on the board by a special teams blunder on a botched punt on which the ball rolled into the end zone and the Knights recovered it for a score. They missed the extra point and it became 21-6 with 5:58 left in the first half. 

The Eagles tacked on a quick score to go back up three touchdowns as it took only six plays for Kevon Wall to run it in from 29 yards away up the far sideline. The second 24 minutes took about 90 minutes but it had plenty of action for the home crowd to cheer for. 

 North Central was committed to getting points on its first possession as the hosts faked a punt in their own territory with Williamson connecting with Esteban Rodriguez for 22 yards to keep the drive alive. Jamel Jones, who ran hard in the second half, punched it in and all of a sudden it was a two-score game at 28-14 with nine minutes left in the third. But as mentioned earlier, every time NC threw a punch, the Eagles countered with one of their own. 

Central pulled off a number of big runs with 11 runs of 10 yards or more in the game. It really wore down the Knights defense. 

“At halftime,” said Drakeford, “I said we have to stop the run. We can’t have a team, from a defensive standpoint, where they just pound it on us and wear us down. It happened, though, in that first half and it caused me to be a little frustrated. So in the second half, we made some adjustments to move guys around. It allowed us to get back on the field a little bit and do some things.”

After exchanging scores yet again --- a 32-yard run by Central and then a 10-yard touchdown pass from Williamson to Jones --- was followed by NC getting its lone defensive stop of the half. A turnover on downs inside the 30 gave the Knights new life. 

A 39-yard run by Jones on the first play gave the Knights great field position and a few plays later, Williamson connected with Markell Portee from eight yards out and the Knights brought it within six points at the 11:15 mark of the fourth quarter and now only trailed, 34-28. 

Drakeford later talked about why his team played so well on offense after the break after being shut out in the first half. “I think the guys just got more confident. And when you make a stop defensively, it gives you some momentum,” he said. “On offense, we were moving the ball and making plays and we just converted and finished. As long as you think you have a chance, you can do a lot with that mindset.”

However, like they did all half, the Eagles found a way to respond and they did it on the ground. On the ensuing kickoff, it went 40 yards inside NC territory. From there, Wall ran for his second score of the night, this time from 33 yards right up the middle for a touchdown to put the Eagles up 42-28. 

“I think it was primarily missing tackles and we didn’t have enough guys. We have players running out but they had fresh guys going in and out playing both ways,” Drakeford said of the difficulties with a small roster. “Jamel Jones played well both ways but when you are in 90 percent of the game, it wears down on you and it did on him.” 

Down two scores and threatening to bring it back within seven, NC made a costly error that could probably be classified as the dagger in its chances. A throw over the middle into the end zone was picked off by Quan Chambers who returned the interception 99 yards for a touchdown to hike the visitors’ lead to 49-28.

 “I didn’t see actually what happened,’ Drakeford said the pick six. “I looked up and (Chambers) was running downfield. We had trouble making the tackle there but just came up short all night. We would be in position to make plays all night but just didn’t get it done.” 

The teams exchanged touchdowns to finish out the scoring making it a 56-36 final as Williamson found Portee, again, from 13 yards out with a minute left on the clock. 

It was indeed a tough season for the Knights but in this final act, they showed heart and accountability, something that their coach has been preaching all season. Even though Williamson is leaving, there is a lot returning to be hopeful about. 

“I wanted our team to show appreciation to our seniors who put three or four years in here at North Central and the program,” Drakeford said of what he told his team following the game. “Unfortunately, we came up on the short end of the stick. I told the young guys, that we have a pretty decent team here. If they come back and stay committed, good things are going to happen. You can’t be a sometime player in today’s age. You’ve got to come here every day to put in the work.” 

 

Knights Knowledge: Unofficially, Williamson had 284 yards passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions on a 19-of-27 passing night ...  Jones, a junior, rushed for 146 yards and a score. Most of those yards came in the second half and gave Williamson protection as the Central was forced to respect the run … Portee had five receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns … Also, I was told in the press box, that it may have been a career night for senior Esteban Rodriguez who caught five balls for 66 yards … Central had more than 280 yards rushing with another 170 in passing … NC freshman Avante Reynolds came up with an interception. 

 

 Lowder leaving the sidelines: Last, but certainly not least, Friday was the final game in the coaching career of one of the all around good guys in Kershaw County. Mitch Lowder called it a 35-year career Friday. From softball coach --- in which he led North Central to the 1999 state championship ---, girls basketball, golf, tennis and football, Lowder has quite the resume that spanned from Lugoff-Elgin in the late 1980s to later going on to North Central. He spoke to the Knights after Friday’s game, telling them to simply “make good decisions, whether in football, or in life, and trust in God.” 

“Mitch means a great deal to me and the program. He has a wealth of knowledge,” Drakeford said  to his players of Lowder’s impact on the school and NC athletic program. 

“You got a guy that’s been here 35 plus years. Be wise to listen to him. He’s been a head coach, an offensive and defensive coordinator so absorb all the knowledge he has. I wanted the kids to understand we are losing a great coach and friend in Mitch Lowder.” 

 

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