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High Tide

Bowers and Portee hook up for 3 TD passes as Knights snap skid vs. Central, 41-21

Posted: October 1, 2018 3:30 p.m.
Updated: October 2, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S JAMEL JONES heads to the end zone on this 15-yard carry in the final six minutes of the Knights’ 41-21 win over visiting Central on Friday in Boonetown.

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Signature wins such as this are usually followed by a head coach being doused by a bucket of water. Or, at the very least, wild post-game antics on the playing field. 

Instead, it was business as usual for North Central following Friday’s 41-21 dismantling of visiting Central on homecoming.

Not only was the win the first over the Eagles since 1984, but it gave Tyronne Drakeford’s program its first 2-0 start to a conference season since 1997 when the Knights were still in the class A ranks.

NC’s Friday night celebration was relatively tame; as if the Knights expected to win. That was the message which Drakeford has been trying to spread in his two years at the helm at his alma mater. A victory over perennial AA state power Central was the next step in the process in Boonetown.

“The biggest thing tonight was that the kids were ready to play. They wanted to win this game,” Drakeford said. “We feel like the tide is changing. These kids are tired of losing … the community’s tired of losing. Everybody wanted to make a difference and we said, ‘This is our year.’

“We came out with a game plan and stuck to it tonight. They got some plays on us but overall, we did what we needed to do.”

The Knights (4-2, 2-0 in Region 4-AA) did exactly what they needed to do after the guests had an 11-yard Sebastian Richardson pick six on NC’s second snap of the game to take a quick 6-0 lead. It would prove to be the last time that the Eagles led in this ballgame.

With Central bottling up the NC ground game in the early going, it left junior quarterback Austin Bowers to shrug off his early game miscue. And, did he ever.

Bowers found 6-foot-3 wide out Markell Portee with three touchdown passes --- two coming on successive plays --- in a first half which ended with the Knights carrying a 21-6 lead into the locker room.

The Bowers-to-Portee tandem hooked up six times in the first 24 minutes with half the aerials resulting in touchdowns. Bowers ended the first half clicking on 11 of 16 passes for 219 yards with Portee having 170 of those while upping his touchdown total to nine on the season.

Just as he did in a 28-17 win over Andrew Jackson 16 days earlier, Bowers rebounded from throwing an interception early in the game to have the hot hand thereafter. He finished the night completing 14 of his 21 aerials for a career-best 254 yards. Portee ended the evening with seven grabs for 183 yards.

“The biggest thing with Austin is that, we know he can throw the ball, it’s just a matter of if our guys give him time to throw the ball, we’re going to make plays,” Drakeford said. “We did that tonight and, Austin did that tonight. We just have to continue to give Austin time to throw the ball and continue doing the things that we’re doing.”

Once the Knights went ahead by two touchdowns, it took the Eagles (3-3, 1-1 in 4AA) out of their comfort zone in an offense which opened in the wishbone formation before going to the spread set. Central finished the game by throwing for 105 of its 198 yards in offense.

“That’s what we planned for,” Drakeford said of his defense honing in on the wishbone scheme. “That’s what they do. They’re Central of Pageland. They may get away from (the wishbone) and into the spread, but they come back to it because it’s their bread and butter.

“They got out of the wishbone out of necessity because we were playing really sound defense. Even when they went to the spread, I thought our guys did a really good job on defense.”

Trailing, 6-0, less than three minutes into the game, the Knights did not come unraveled as they evened things on their third possession by traveling 69 yards on six plays.

Taking over from their own 31 following a punt, the Knights used a 30-yard Bowers to Avante’ Reynolds on second down to get into Central territory at the 37. Four plays later, on third and three from the 30, Bowers sent a strike to Portee, who beat one-on-one coverage, along the home sidelines for the equalizer. And with 11:44 left before halftime, this one was knotted at 6-6.

The first of four CHS turnovers came on the visitors’ next snap from scrimmage. A fumble was recovered by NC’s Jamel Jones at the Eagles’ 41 with 11:33 to go in the second stanza. Seven seconds later, Portee was in the end zone as Bowers lofted a perfect scoring toss on the same pass pattern albeit down the opposite sideline. Hunter Haven then lined home the PAT kick and with 11:26 showing on the second quarter clock, the hosts were on top for keeps at 13-6.

Portee and Bowers were hardly finished after their second scoring connection.

Forcing another Eagle punt, the NC offense set up shop at its own 37 with 6:01 left before halftime. On the first play, Bowers dropped back and sent a rope to Portee, who made the fingertip grab between a pair of Eagle defenders in the middle of the field and sprinted into the end zone with his third touchdown in the game’s first 18 minutes and change. The same tandem worked their magic on the two-point play as Bowers fired a dart to Portee in the top middle of the end zone for the 21-6 lead which would stay that way through the break.

The Knights’ air attack came through at the most opportune time as Central bottled up the NC ground game to the tune of minus (-12) yards rushing on six first half carries.

“We needed that because they were stopping the run,” Drakeford said of the success of his team’s passing attack. “Fortunately, we have some talented guys on the outside and Markell made three huge plays for us and was able to get into the end zone and, Austin made three great throws on those plays.”

Central, which rushed for 33 yards on 19 first half carries, continued to struggle making headway in the second half before NC opened the door for the Eagles’ offense by being flagged for a roughing the kicker penalty after the Knight defense got a three-and-out on the guests’ first offensive series of the third quarter.

The penalty gave the Eagles new life and a first down at the NC 44. Central had its longest offensive play of the night when a pair of Knight defenders tipped a Curtis Chapman pass which landed in the arms of wide receiver Robert Smith at the four. Two snaps later, J.R.  Reid went over right tackle as the visitors drew to within 21-12 with 4:36 to play in the third. Chapman then went in with the two-point run to narrow the gap to 12-14.

On a night of big plays, NC got another on the next snap as freshman tailback Sentrell Davis-Warren took a pitch from Bowers on a toss sweep, shook off a set of would-be tacklers, skirted around another and down the home sidelines for a 66-yard touchdown. Haven tacked on the PAT kick as the Knights answered the Eagle score with a quick strike of their own to raise the ante to 14 points at 28-14 with 4:22 left in the third.

Davis-Warren struck again minutes later as on the first play of the fourth quarter, he stepped in front of a Chapman pass at the CHS 41 and took off to his right for the pick six which all but put this one away as the Knights extended their lead to 34-14 just 15 seconds into the final stanza.

For Davis-Warren, this was a coming-out party for the freshman who has been given a chance to shine on both sides of the ball.

“He’s a young kid who has played well for us all year,” Drakeford said of Davis-Warren. “He’s continued to improve each week which is what we want to see from him and, from all our guys. If we keep doing that, I think the sky’s the limit for us.”

Just like the first quarter, Jones recovered a Central fumble at the Eagles’ 15 with 5:57 left to play. Jones then did the honors as on the ensuing snap, he swept over left end for the touchdown and a 41-14 lead with 5:52 remaining.

The Eagles scored their third touchdown of the game, this also set up by a NC penalty for roughing the passer on a fourth down incompletion. Getting new life, the guests scored on a nine-yard Chapman to Jalen Robinson pass with 2:25 left to cut the lead in half.

“There’s nothing bad I can say about our guys,” Drakeford said when talking about NC mistakes leading to all three Central scores. “It’s football and things are going to happen. Overall, we did the things that we were supposed to do. We executed our game plan. We had a couple extra days to prepare for them and we took advantage of it.”

The 2-0 start to league play finds the Knights in relatively uncharted territory as they sit atop the seven-team circuit along with Buford (3-0) as the two lone unbeatens. With a trip to Chesterfield (2-1) on the docket Friday and with wins over rivals Andrew Jackson and Central in pocket, Drakeford said this is not time for the Knights to get complacent.

“We have to expect to win, get used to winning and then, get ready to come back to practice Monday and be ready to go the following week,” Drakeford said. “That’s one of the things that, once we get accustomed to things like that, we’ll be fine. The guys just have to get used to it.”

Knight Lights: The Knights celebrated Homecoming --- with McKenna Arrants being voted as queen --- along with Alumni Night as several NC grads received raffle gifts … In addition to the passing and receiving exploits of Bowers and Portee, respectively, the Knights received 59 yards on four carries from Davis-Warren on a night in which the hosts ran the ball 18 times for 64 yards to give them 318 yards in offense … Chapman completed six of 19 passes for 105 yards while Reid led the Central ground game with 50 yards on 13 carries … The Eagles ran the ball 38 times and picked up 93 yards while being stopped for two or fewer yards 25 times.

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