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NC secondary is primary in 7-0 win

Posted: August 13, 2018 2:05 p.m.
Updated: August 14, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S MARKELL PORTEE (13) makes a move to to get past A.C. Flora defender Michael Haba after making a catch in Friday’s 43rd annual Camden Shrine Club Jamboree at Zemp Stadium.

Who says scores from preseason events don’t count?

Try convincing North Central head football coach Tyronne Drakeford of that following his team’s 7-0 win over A.C. Flora in Friday’s second game of the 43rd annual Camden Shrine Club Jamboree at Zemp Stadium.

The Knights are coming off a two-win campaign in Drakeford’s first year at his alma mater. Shutting out the 4A Falcons was a step in the right direction for the Knights who return to Zemp Stadium Friday to take on Camden in the regular season opener.

“This is a big confidence boost, especially when you go up against a bigger school who is supposed to be pretty good this year,” said the former Super Bowl-winning cornerback with the San Francisco 49ers. “Our guys played hard the whole 50 minutes. I have to take my hat off to them but, we definitely have to get in better shape.”

The Knights broke the scoreless deadlock on their final offensive series of the night. A three-yard bullet from Austin Bowers to wide out Hunter Haven in the middle of the end zone with 2:40 left in the 50-minute game played with a running clock was the lone score of the night. The pass, which capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive, was followed by Haven booting the PAT kick.

Any late-game comeback hopes were dashed when NC’s Markell Portee picked off a Josh Heatley pass at the Knights’ 35 with some 25 seconds left in the contest.

In a game in which NC lined up four quarterbacks --- with two taking snaps in the game-deciding march ---, it was the Knights’ defense which came up big several times before Portee’s game-clinching interception. In fact, it was sophomore Justin Catoe’s interception of Heatley’s fourth down pass in the end zone which led to the 4-AA entry’s marching down the field with just more than 14 and a half-minutes to play.

The fact that two defensive backs came up with the key plays late in the game brought a smile to Drakeford’s face as he works with and coaches the NC secondary.

“It was extra special being that they were defensive backs,” he said. “Overall, they guys stayed with their responsibilities. They didn’t try to do too much. They went out and did what was required of them.”

Following Catoe’s pick, the Knights’ offense set up shop at their own 20 with Avante’ Reynolds at quarterback. An 18-yard Reynolds to Bowers pass on third and 13 had another 15 yards tacked onto it by a Falcon personal foul penalty. On first down from midfield, sophomore transfer Kalab Haven took off on a 15-yard carry into Flora territory.

With Bowers at quarterback, the junior called his own number on third and 10 from the 38 and went for 18 yards, delivering a vicious hit on a defender at the end of the run. In a series marked by third down conversions, Bowers found Jamel Jones out of the backfield with a 14-yard connection in third and seven from the 17. Three snaps later, Bowers finished off the drive with his strike to Hunter Haven.

In a game in which neither team posed a serious scoring threat through the first half of the contest, the Falcons, who were winless a year ago and playing their first jamboree in two nights, inserted Heatley --- their starting quarterback --- into the game when taking over after a punt at their own 42.

A defensive hold called against the Knights helped keep the series going with a first down at the NC 38. A 20-yard Heatley to Quincy Riley pass set the ball at the NC five. On third and goal from the 18, Jones and Tyrek Jenkins combined to sack Heatley at the 28. On fourth and goal from there, Heatley’s desperation heave was intercepted by Catoe.

The Knights ran 29 plays to Flora’s 19 with Kalab Haven collecting 32 yards on five carries as NC had eight different players carry the ball. Reynolds clicked on half of his six pass attempts for 45 yards while Bowers was 2-for-3 for 17 yards.

Drakeford said he and his coaching staff accomplished what they wanted on Friday by playing their entire roster and giving young players much needed experience.

“It was very important,” he said of giving all his players playing time. “A lot of these kids will end up playing on the jayvees for us. It was good to get them out here on the big stage in a hostile environment against a good opponent.

“This is going to get us ready for our region games and, the upcoming season.”

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