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Knights look to take next step toward goal

Posted: October 11, 2018 8:30 a.m.
Updated: October 12, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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ZYQWAN DUNHAM ... NC linebacker

Playing meaningful games at this juncture in the season is something which North Central can get accustomed to. For now, though, the Knights are still getting used to their lofty status in conference action.

With three games remaining in the regular season, Tyronne Drakeford’s squad has won their first trio of Region 4-AAA games and sit a half-game behind Buford (4-0) in the race for the league crown. Should each side take care of business over the next two weeks, they will play for the 4-AA title in Buford on Oct. 26.

The prospect of looking ahead to playing such a meaningful game that late in the season is tempting for the Knights. Drakeford understands that, but the second-year NC boss also knows for that game to mean what it could, his team needs to take care of its next two opponents; the first of which is Lee Central who comes calling to Boonetown tonight for Senior Night.

For a program which last won a conference championship before any of the players on the current roster were born, being in the thick of a conference championship race is a new experience for the Knights.

“It’s very tough for our kids because this is a position that we haven’t been in for a very, very, very long time,” Drakeford said of maintaining focus on the game in front of his team and not worrying about the one two weeks down the road. “The key to our success is that we make the kids understand that we play one play and one day at a time. As long as they keep believing and doing that, we should be fine.

“At the same time, you don;t want to take away the momentum and the enthusiasm that we have because, again, we are in uncharted territory. I want our kids to enjoy this but we haven’t achieved our goal which is to win the region. In order to do that, we have to win each and every game.”

Since the start of conference play, the Knights’ offense has seen their scoring average take off to scoring better than 38 points per game. Just when it seemed as if junior Austin Bowers wrested control of the starting job at quarterback, he sat out last Friday’s 47-20 win over Chesterfield while in concussion protocol. In his place stepped senior Avante’ Reynolds, who started the season at quarterback only to be forced back into action a week ago. Reynolds, more of a roll out passer than Bowers, led the Knights to 401 yards in offense.

Playing behind a line which has come together fairly quickly, Drakeford said his offense is more than holding its own while doing plenty of the heavy lifting.

“I think the guys felt they were letting the team down by not scoring,” he said of his offensive unit. “They came together and said, ‘We’re better than this.’ 

“They really focused on their assignments and on where they were missing those key blocks on running schemes. Then, everything just came together. The quarterbacks started playing well and connected on passes and we started scoring some points which is always good for the defense because now, they know they don’t have to get a stop on every play the opposing team is running.”

Tonight, the task for the Knights will be to try and slow down a Stallion squad which is beginning to get healthy after having several players miss some early season games --- including their starting quarterback --- with injuries. The defending Region 4-AA champions came up short in a 21-12 loss to Chesterfield two Saturdays ago before blitzing Lewisville, 55-0, last Friday.

While Lee Central may have plenty of new and young faces dotting the lineup, the visitors still have a ton of athleticism and quickness. “They have a lot more younger guys than they’ve had the past couple years so, their record doesn’t indicate how well they have been playing,” Drakeford said of the 2-4 Stallions. 

“From our standpoint, we’re going to treat them as if they are one of the top teams in our conference. We have to play well and we have to play mistake-free football. That’s the way we have to take this game. It’s a big game for us and we need to get this win. Our guys are ready.”The Stallion offense operates out of the wishbone formation while mixing in the flexbone --- head coach Justin Danner was formerly an assistant at Hartsville ---, as well. This will be the second time in three games that the Knights’ defense has faced a wishbone scheme. They all but took Central out of its wishbone package by shutting down the Eagles’ running game in a 41-20 win two weeks ago.

Drakeford said facing a wishbone attack, again, is not a slam-dunk for his defense just because they have seen the formation before.

“Actually, it’s not because they have some really good athletes and some fast guys. Unfortunately, our backup guys are not as fast as their starters,” he said of getting a look at the formation from his own scout team. “You can only hope that we give our defense an idea of what they’re going to do. In practice, we have to play at full speed so that we’re not in shock or, in awe, once we get into the game.”

“At the same time, we know they are going to throw a lot of different formations at us. From the defensive standpoint, we have to be on our keys and take care of our responsibilities.”

Drakeford said the Stallion offense, as opposed to Central’s which was forced to go to the spread at times, will stay in the wishbone or, flexbone look regardless. The hope is to catch the Knights out of position or, sneak in a passing play should the defense get fixated in stopping only the running attack.

“They’re going to be in the wishbone and a little of the flexbone and they’re going to keep plugging away at you until you make a mistake,” said the NC head coach. “When they get you to try and stop their running game, that’s when they slip somebody out for a pass and try to catch you off guard. Our guys have to be in tune with their responsibilities, do their job and not try and do too much. If we can do that, I think we’ll be fine.

The Knights are coming off a game in which the trio of Jamel Jones, Kalab Haven and Sentrell Davis-Warren combined to run for 274 yards against Chesterfield. Wide receiver Markell Portee had four catches for 32 yards including his 10th touchdown of the season while fellow wide out Hunter Haven had 95 yards in receiving. Getting Bowers back behind center is another plus for an offense which is clicking on all cylinders.

“I’m pretty sure they’re going to try and stop the run first. That’s what most teams try to do and make the opposing team pass the ball, especially when they see that we have three physical backs that can run the ball and can get downhill,” Drakeford said. “They’ll probably try and put more guys in the box and make us pass the ball. If they do that, we have guys on the outside like Markell, who has been playing out of his mind, and other guys who have been playing very well, also.

“(If they take away the run), we’ll go to that secondary option and throw the ball and, we’ll be fine.”

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