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Mustangs play ‘keep-away’ in second half to stop Dogs

Posted: November 6, 2017 2:50 p.m.
Updated: November 7, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CAMDEN QUARTERBACK CAMPBELL JORDAN runs past Palmetto tackle Tyson Owens for yardage in the first half of Friday’s AAA Upper State playoff contest in Williamston.

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WILLIAMSTON -- Boasting of a ground and pound rushing attack coming into Friday’s first round AAA Upper State playoff game with visiting Camden, Palmetto seemingly played into the Bulldogs’ hands in the first half with the visitors carrying a 7-3 lead into the locker room.

The host Mustangs were stymied by a staunch Camden defensive effort which allowed just a 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter in the game’s opening 24 minutes.

Palmetto did what it does best in the second half, running the ball 33 times from its 38 plays --- while eating up large chunks of the clock --- after the break while limiting CHS to just 19 second half snaps in a 19-7 Mustang victory.

The loss ended an end of regular season,  two-game win streak for Camden which closed the first season of the Brian Rimpf era with a 3-8 record. Palmetto (8-3) travels to meet Seneca in Friday’s second round.

Simply put, Camden’s offense was stymied in the second half, managing just 51 total yards while collecting three first downs. That put the Bulldog defense on the field for more than 18 minutes after intermission while the CHS offense was shut out, 16-0.

“It was a pretty slow second half for us,” Rimpf said after he and each of his coaches addressed their players for the final time. “They came out and probably ran the ball nine out of 10 times and were able to get a few yards here and a few yards there and it worked out for them.

“They didn’t make many mistakes. They’re a really good team. The last four games (before Friday), they had scored more than 50 points in each one. They scored 19 tonight. That was a great job by our defense and our defensive coaching staff.”

Camden’s defense was on the field for 66 plays and allowed 439 yards to the hosts who received 138 on 25 carries from senior tailback Daron Williford. The Mustang defense was no slouch either as that unit held the guests to 167 yards in offense on 42 plays. Equally important, the hosts limited the damage inflicted by Camden tailback Jericho Murphy who was held to 78 yards on 14 carries.

Murphy, a senior who rarely stepped off the field the past five weeks since moving to safety in addition to his job in the offensive backfield, had run for 645 yards and eight touchdowns on his previous four games. On this night, yards and running room were at a premium against the Mustangs’ 3-5-3 defensive scheme while held CHS standout to just 25 yards on eight second half carries.

“We didn’t exactly move the ball well on offense all night,” Rimpf said of his team’s struggles on that side of the football. “They made the tackles that we had been breaking the past few weeks. They were where they were supposed to be and, they played hard.

“They just did a real good job of being fundamentally sound. It was tough for us to get big plays and we also had a number of procedure penalties that pushed us back for first and 15 or, second and 10 after a five-yard gain. You can’t play behind the chains when you are playing a solid football team.”

In what turned into a defensive battle, each side thwarted scoring threats on the evening’s first two offensive series. For Camden, which got off to a quick start as Shymeik Corbett returned the opening kickoff 53 yards to the PHS 36, its first series ended with kicker Bennett Caldwell’s 37-yard field goal try leaking wide left.

The Mustang offense then marched 69 yards on 14 snaps to the Camden 21. On fourth and 12 from there, quarterback Blair Garner was flushed from the pocket and scrambled for a gain of five as the ball changed hands.

Camden’s defense stiffened for the second straight series after PHS took over from the Bulldogs 45 following a punt. Garner broke loose for 31 yards to the 10 on second down but the Mustangs netted just one yard on the next three snaps as Francisco Cortez’s 25-yard field goal just cleared the crossbar after being tipped by Camden’s Lareek Stradford as the hosts took a 3-0 lead with 8:41 left in the second stanza.

Corbett’s return led to PHS shying away from kicking the ball deep as Cortez’s ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds as the Dogs took over at their own 35.

With quarterback Campbell Jordan keeping three times on the read option and netting 10 yards, it was fullback Lance McCray’s three-yard run on third and one from the 45 which kept the march alive. Jordan then broke off an 11-yard run to the PHS 27. A botched snap would leave the Dogs staring at a second and 24 from the 29. On that play, Jordan rolled right and threaded the needle with a scoring pass to sophomore Landon Goodwin, who went between a pair of defenders to meet the ball and make the grab in the top right corner of the end zone for the game’s first score. Caldwell tacked on the PAT kick and with 3:28 left in the first half, CHS went on top, 7-3.

“That was a good catch by Landon,” Rimpf said of his team’s only scoring play of the night. “We’ve been working on that play in practice to put guys in situations like that. It was a good throw by Campbell and a great play by Landon to take the ball away from them.

“We hesitated for a second because we didn’t see any touchdown signals. We just figured it was because (Goodwin) was in the end zone. It was a great play going into the half but we were unable to do anything in the second half to work off of that play.”

The Mustangs had one last threat before the break only for Garner to be chased on a fourth and 16 from the Camden 22 and fire an incompletion with 20 ticks left in the clock.

After having attempted nine first half passes, the Mustangs eschewed the air game and went to their bread-and-butter in the second half.  They took the third quarter kickoff and drove 64 yards on nine plays with Dez Frazier capping the drive by going in from two yards out. Cortez, again, had his kick partially blocked but it went through as Palmetto went on top for keeps at 10-7 with 8:04 left in the third.

Camden rolled the dice on the ensuing possession, going for the first down on fourth and a pair from its own 47 only for McCray to be stacked up at the line of scrimmage.

Palmetto, however, was unable to capitalize on the stop as the Mustangs needed 12 snaps to travel 42 yards. Garner’s pass on fourth and goal from the five was batted away by Murphy as the Dogs took possession at their own five with 63 seconds left in the third quarter.

A Camden punt following its defensive stand left Palmetto with 50 yards to travel. Six plays later, Frazier went over left tackle for the game-clinching score with Cortez adding the kick for a 17-7 advantage with 6:14 to play.

Any chance which Camden had of closing the gap went by the boards as, on a miscommunication on second and 10 from the Bulldogs’ 45, Bryce Roberts came up with an interception which he returned 41 yards to the Camden 29 with 4:24 to play in the contest.

The Bulldogs returned the favor as Ryland Ayers stepped in front of a Garner pass in the end zone on fourth and goal from the 16. Taking over at the three with 2:25 left, Murphy took a handoff on second and 10. In what looked like Palmetto team picture day, Murphy was surrounded by defenders and decided to throw from the end zone only there was not a Camden receiver in the area as it was ruled a safety to put the icing on the cake for the hosts.

All night long, Murphy was unable to get past the first wave of Palmetto defenders as that unit keyed on the Camden tailback. Rimpf said, from what he saw before watching the game on film, the Mustangs made sure Murphy was not the one player who was going to beat them.

“They just got a bunch of guys to the ball,” Rimpf said. “That was something we faced the past two weeks. I have to watch the film to figure out if it was slammed gaps or if our guys were missing one step because things were happening so fast. But we’ve practiced those things and have done them well in the past, we just didn’t do them well enough tonight to win.”

Camden dressed out 60 players on Friday including 16 seniors, with nine of those being starters. After each member of the Bulldog coaching staff said a few words to the team, Rimpf asked each senior to address the squad in an emotional farewell.

Following a bumpy 1-7 start, the Dogs won two of their final three games while securing a state playoff berth. Rimpf said he had just one regret after his first go ‘round at CHS. He also lauded the seniors for laying the groundwork for future success.

“In the end,” he said, “it was the last game of the season and we wished it would have worked out better and (we) had gone on to the next round of the playoffs but we didn’t. We are certainly proud of every one of these players who made the trip with us, especially these seniors who are on their way out. We are certainly proud of the Bulldogs tonight.”

Bulldog Bites: Murphy finished the season with a career-best 1,392 yards rushing on 186 carries while scoring 18 total touchdowns, including running for 17. He also had 197 receiving yards on 15 receptions, completed three of 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, returned a punt for a 40-yard touchdown and averaged better than 30 yards per return on 13 kickoffs … In his third career start, Jordan completed four of 11 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown. He also had 10 carries for 27 yards … McCray had 29 yards on five carries … Williford led all rushers for 138 yards on 25 carries while Frazier went for another 101 on 15 carries as Palmetto ran the ball 52 times for 303 yards … Garner, the Mustangs’ sophomore quarterback, was nine-of-14 passing for 136 yards with one interception while running the ball 11 times for 66 yards … The Bulldogs had 11 first downs to Palmetto’s 18. Camden was four of eight on third down conversions and one-for-two on fourth down calls … The Camden defense was on the field for nearly 31 of the game’s 48 minutes … As a reward for their individual play in the season, 10 members of the Camden junior varsity team dressed out for Friday’s contest.

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