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Drakeford, Knights undaunted by challenge awaiting them in Lamar

Posted: September 6, 2018 11:26 a.m.
Updated: September 7, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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HUNTER HAVEN ... NC defensive back

When he accepted the head coaching position at his high school alma mater, Tyronne Drakeford said, if given the opportunity, he wanted to put together the toughest non-conference schedule he could find.

The Knights, who play only four non-region contests, re-upped the contract with neighboring 3A rival Camden. In making out his team’s 2018 slate, Drakeford reeled in a whopper when Lamar agreed to a two-year, home-and-home series which opens tonight in Darlington County.

The unbeaten hosts continue to sit atop the state class A rankings and have outscored the opposition by a combined 118-7 through three games. That figure includes a season-opening 69-7 thrashing of Hemingway by the defending class A state champions.

Drakeford said this was exactly the type of challenge and atmosphere in which he wanted his players to compete. The second-year NC boss said he believes his squad is ready to embrace this opportunity.

“It’s definitely a very, very big challenge,” Drakeford said of what awaits the Knights in Lamar. “Their coaches do an exceptional job with the players. Their players believe that they should win every game, which is what you want as a coach. 

“They’re riding on a hot streak, right now. Over the past four or five years, they’ve only lost a couple games and have won a couple (two) state championships. They feel really good about themselves and, they should.”

North Central is coming into tonight’s pairing feeling good about itself, as well. The Knights are backed by a two-game win streak and come off a 61-13 victory over McBee last Friday in a game in which Drakeford’s squad piled up the second-most points in a game in school history.

“I think the biggest improvement is our starting to believe,” Drakeford said of what he has seen from his troops over the past two weeks. “We knew Camden was going to be a challenge for us but, each week, we kept telling ourselves that we were a pretty good team. We just had to correct the mistakes we made and see what happens from there.”

Drakeford said coming off back-to-back solid performances has brought some much-needed confidence to his program.

“It definitely makes a whole lot of difference,” he said of his squad’s attitude coming into tonight’s game, because you can have a good team but don’t have a record to show it; you start to have that doubt in your mind. Right now, we’re starting to feel good about ourselves. We know we have come improving to do but, we think that we can go out and win this game. It’s not going to be easy but, we’re looking forward to it.”

Lamar, Drakeford admitted, is a different animal than McBee or, Columbia which NC defeated two weeks ago. He knows the bar will be raised tonight against a Silver Foxes squad which is fast and swarms to the ball on defense while having plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball.

In last Friday’s 26-0 win over 4A Darlington, Lamar received 156 yards and two touchdowns on the ground from Jacquez Lucas and another 146 yards rushing and a pair of scores from fellow back Cam Galloway. And just to keep opposing defenses honest, quarterback Silas Barr threw for 169 yards from a run-first offensive attack.

Drakeford said his defenders cannot afford to be out of position against an explosive Lamar offense.

“The biggest thing is that our guys have to take care of gap responsibility. You can’t try to do too much against this offense,” he said. “If you’re a back side guy, you have to stay back side. If you are a front side guy, you have to attack the front side.

“They run a lot of misdirection plays which causes a lot of confusion for a defense that isn’t paying attention. Hopefully, we’ll be focused, run our game play and guys will be where they are supposed to be so they don’t get big plays.”

The Lamar defense has pitched shutouts the last two weeks, blanking Central, 23-0, before knocking off Darlington a week ago. Drakeford said his offense, which had Markell Portee have his second straight three touchdown catch game against McBee, will be heavily tested.

Drakeford said his offense must be able to control the football to keep Lamar’s potent offense on the sidelines. More than that, however, the Knights must be able to cash in on their offensive chances to have a chance to pull off the upset in what Drakeford said is a measuring stick game for his young program.

“It gives us, as players and coaches, the opportunity to see how all of our hard work during the summer pays off,” he said of facing Lamar. “The challenge is there. We accept the challenge and we’ll be ready to play come Friday night.”

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