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Dogs, finally, return home to Zemp

Posted: October 8, 2010 8:42 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2010 8:39 a.m.

Officially, homecoming at Camden High School is not until next Friday night. But as far as the school’s football team is concerned, tonight’s game with Hartsville at Zemp Stadium is a homecoming unto itself.

Take away the fact that this is the 84th meeting between the two longstanding rivals, and is one of, if not the oldest rivalry in the state, but tonight marks the Bulldogs’ first time at home since a 32-27 win over West Florence on Sept. 3.

A lot has changed since the most recent home contest for Jimmy Neal’s troops. When they left the playing field at Zemp that night, the Dogs were hardly a blip on the AAA state radar with a 3-0 record. Tonight, Neal and company return to their friendly confines sporting a 6-0 mark and, for the second straight week, ranked seventh in the state AAA poll.
For one, Neal said he is glad to not have to load the buses tonight for another road trip.

“We’re excited about being home,” Neal said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a big crowd there tonight. Hartsville’s been on a nice run, too, and I’m sure they will bring a nice crowd on their side of the stadium.

“I’m excited about being home and I’m sure that our players are, too.”

As someone who has watched, played and coached in this rivalry with Hartsville, Neal has a great appreciation for it. He said that whenever the two sides hook up, it is a special game. Now, a new chapter will be written as the two sides meet for the first time as AAA rivals, now that HHS has dropped down from the 4A ranks.

“There are all the stories in this rivalry,” he said. “We’ve talked about it, but you can’t get too high or too low for any game. Now, though, it’s a region game and is has more emphasis on it. They’re a good football team and we have to play well, that’s how we’ve approached it.”

In spite of its clean record through six games, the Dogs have sustained more than their share of injuries, starting in the spring. While players such as starting cornerback Jeffrey Belton returned last week and starting safety Darelle Smith is eyeing a return to the fold next week, the Dogs have practiced minus leading rusher Jo Jo Brevard for the past two weeks while starting quarterback Dillon Morrow has been held out of contact drills the past two weeks.

Not having all working parts in the offense created a mixed bag for CHS in last week’s 28-0 shutout over Crestwood. Not chancing doing further damage to his team’s walking wounded by holding them out of contact practices, Neal said, is a necessary evil in this instance.

“You need to have them playing on Fridays,” he said.

“Our offensive coaches were a little concerned because they didn’t feel that our timing was ‘on’ last week and that we weren’t where we needed to be. We try and work on those things, but when everybody’s not able to go at full-speed, it throws your timing off and it becomes a problem.”

Neal said his offense always has a few new tweaks and changes to it and said Brevard’s not being available during the week has led to the junior’s having to learn on the field since all he can do is watch and listen in practice. In his absence last week, however, Belton came through with a 118-yard rushing effort, including an 81-yard scoring run.

“We need to get better timing down with our offense. Hopefully, this week will be a good one for that,” Neal said.

The injury bug struck the defense this week as both Camden’s starting inside linebackers --- seniors Brayan Mendez and Zack Neal --- were held out of contact drills to protect a pair of minor ailments.

In talking about his team’s injury situation with former CHS head coach Billy Ammons, Neal said there is an upside to it all.

“I was talking with Coach Ammons the other day and he said these things can make you stronger and make you better in some ways,” Neal said. “Look at our cornerback position. We feel better about that now that Jeffrey (Belton) is back. But Torrez (Clark) did a really good job when he was in there. So, the injuries can become a positive, if you can survive them.”

So far, CHS has survived whatever injuries have been thrown at them. Tonight, though, they take on a Red Fox squad which has rebounded from an 0-2 start to have won three of their past four games, including a 41-10 pasting of Lakewood a week ago.

Sophomore quarterback Shaquille Johnson directs a Wing-T/flexbone offensive attack which features a pair of speedy senior tailbacks in Ernest Wallace and Eric Williams, the latter of whom ran for 81 yards on 11 carries against CHS last year.

Defensively, the guests are still in the 3-4. “It’s hard to see their coverages and what they’re doing back there,” Neal said. “It will be interesting to see what we’re going to get as the games goes on. We’re preparing for a little bit of everything.”

And, Neal admitted, preparing for games is easier when you are 6-0 rather than struggling through six contests.

“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “The guys aren’t defensive, they understand what we’re trying to do and that started back in January and through spring and the pre-season. When some of our scrimmages didn’t go very well, our guys were fine. They understood that we were trying to make them better and they understand the way we do things.

“They’ve been a good group to coach, period. They’ve been enjoyable to be around and they have worked hard. It’s one of those things where this has been good for the coaches and good for our players. They’ve had some success, up to this point.”

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