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Rivalry game has different feel for Dogs and Demons

Posted: August 22, 2018 1:10 p.m.
Updated: August 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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JALEN JOHNSON ... CHS cornerback

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Funny the difference one week in a schedule can make.

For the past four years, Camden and Lugoff-Elgin kicked off the football season meaning both sides had all offseason to gear up and game plan for their cross-river rival. Playing week zero also meant the game was a trip into the unknown with plenty of questions to be answered on that evening.

Tonight, the two sides meet at Lugoff-Elgin Stadium with a game under their respective belts with each coming into the contest from opposite directions. The host Demons spent the week trying to re-boot following a 53-14 loss at Westwood last week. In Camden, the Bulldogs blanked North Central 38-0 and are looking at this pairing as a chance for redemption after falling to L-E, 33-28, last year at Zemp Stadium.

What has usually been a festive and spirited week of practice in the West Wateree, said L-E head coach Matt Campbell, has been tempered by his squad’s seeking to correct the errors made a week ago in Blythewood.

“Obviously, it’s a rivalry and you have everything that goes on with it,” Campbell said, “but after the way we played last week, we really have to focus on ourselves. We have to handle us before we can handle anybody else. We can’t be our biggest opponent. Our biggest opponent has to be on the other sideline.”

Four L-E miscues led to 28 Westwood points as the Redhawks scored the first 53 points of the night. Several of the mistakes, Campbell said, could be attributed to opening night jitters while others were the result of mental lapses. The hosts returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown while turning two L-E fumbles on special teams into two more touchdowns. “Basically,” he said, “we made mistakes in every phase of the game. Obviously, special teams killed us. Offensively and defensively, we didn’t execute anywhere close to the level that I would expect.”

Camden did not play a flawless game in spite of recording its first shutout since 2014. The Bulldogs had a turnover to along with a dozen penalties which stalled drives in the first half as they carried a slim 10-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.

Second-year Camden head coach Brian Rimpf said his team received several “tremendous effort plays” from individual players, especially on the defensive side of the football. Those plays were highlighted in team meetings this week. Now, the challenge is for more players to rise to that level.

“We were pleased to get the win. It’s certainly a lot to build on and we still have things to fix,” Rimpf said. “We’re excited about how the season started, though.”

In some respects, this week may be easier on the coaches since the players will get themselves ready for their rival. Keeping that enthusiasm in check and not playing the game during the week is a challenge which both staffs face. At the same time, both Campbell and Rimpf preach worrying about their own teams first and controlling what they can control rather than flooding their players with video of their opponent.

“Something we’ve tried to do as a coaching staff,” Rimpf said in repeating his mantra from a week ago, “is not even talk about the other team but, talk about ourselves and what is Camden going to do. That’s even more true this week with all the distractions you have when you are playing your rival.

“The atmosphere will take care of itself. The Bulldogs will show up in full force and their fans will do the same thing. These are always the most fun games to be a part of whether you’re a player or coach. It’s easy to get up for these games, that’s for sure.”

Campbell said his team had a good week of preparation leading up to the Westwood game but having so many first-year varsity starters, “when the lights went on,” he said, “we didn’t shine.” With that being said, L-E practice this week has been devoted to correcting mistakes rather than just scheming for what Camden will throw at the Demons tonight.

“Right now,” Campbell said, “we can’t worry about Camden. We have to make sure that as we go through the week, that we’re continuing to improve.”

As opposed to this game a season ago, Camden is the team which is top-heavy with seniors. Last year, the L-E defense could focus on trying to slow down graduated tailback Jericho Murphy. This year, the Dogs have a multi-pronged ground attack which, a week ago, had four different ball carriers find their way into the end zone. CHS also has talent at wide out in juniors Landon Goodwin and Davea’ Cauthen when quarterback Bryce Jeffcoat decides to go up top.

“I think they have a lot of playmakers on offense. I think their backs are pretty good,” Campbell said. “Jeffcoat is doing a good job of distributing the ball around. They’re going to threaten you up the seams. They have athletic kids at the receiver positions and they have a big offensive line.”

Defensively, Campbell said he is impressed with Camden’s size along the front, their athleticism at linebacker and good athletes in the secondary.

When he watched L-E on film against Westwood and in person in the Camden Shrine Club Jamboree two weeks ago, Rimpf said you can chalk up the Demons’ loss in the opener to aiding a team a which did not need a helping hand.

“(L-E) played a pretty good team last week,” he said. “We saw Westwood a lot this summer. They have a lot of athletes and their athletes probably rival most teams in the state. They made some big plays against L-E and turnovers hurt L-E.

“When you watch them on film, you see the same L-E Demons that you’ve seen the past few years. They’re big up front; they will be one of the biggest lines our defense will play against all year. They have good size on defense but, more than that, they’re tenacious. They really have high motors. Every one of their linemen is involved in plays. We have to stay on blocks and we have to beat them to the spot their trying to get to.”

Rimpf is also concerned about stopping L-E senior tailback Randall Brown who scorched the Camden defense for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year. “We have to make sure we’re sound fundamentally on defense,” Rimpf said. “They’re a very fundamental team. They’re not going to do a lot of flashy things; they’re going to line up and try to beat you in spots and try and outnumber you.”

Campbell is hoping the old adage that a team improves more from the first to second game of the season will hold up for the Demons.

“Hopefully,” he said, “we’ll make a huge leap because when you start from ground zero, there’s only one way to go and that’s up. I’d like to see a big jump … I expect to see a big jump.”

On the other side of the river, Rimpf wants to see his team take the next step, as well, while erasing a bad memory along the way.

“Our kids have been looking forward to this game for a year,” he said. “L-E beat us in Zemp Stadium last year. That is something that we’re looking to turn around and to rectify.”

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