It should have been a night in which the Camden High football locker room was hopping. Instead, the silence coming from the south corner of Zemp Stadium was deafening.
Long after the horn had sounded following the Bulldogs’ 39-30 win over visiting Dreher and minutes after coaches managed to shepherd the team into the locker room following a post-game brawl (see story on Page 1), CHS head coach Jimmy Neal stood before a still shell-shocked group of players who were trying to put the pieces together as to what had just transpired.
This night was to be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Camden’s 1964 state championship team. The win by the present-day Bulldogs should have been the cherry on top of the sundae. Instead, the melee in the post-game shaking of hands line shifted the focus from football to "what the heck just happened?"
While the game itself will probably take a back seat to the evening-ending theatrics, there was a contest which was played on Friday and, it may well have been the hosts’ best of the season. By taking the nine-point victory and, by virtue of previously winless Richland Northeast’s 17-14 upset of fifth-ranked and previously unbeaten A.C. Flora, Camden (4-4) was involved in a four-way tie atop the Region 4-AAA standings with A.C. Flora, Chapin and Dreher (6-2), all sporting 2-1 conference ledgers.
Neal admitted the fight put a damper on the game and celebration for the ’64 Team. But, he said, a game had been played and the Dogs won it.
"It was a great win for our team," a subdued Neal said. "It was a great effort by our guys who did some outstanding things out there tonight."
There were many positives which were overshadowed by the after-game shenanigans on this night.
After having lost his starting quarterback job to sophomore Devin Beckley last week, junior Jaylen Nelson was back under center on Friday. Nelson regained his old job when Beckley was diagnosed with an injury to the thumb on his right (throwing) hand in the previous week’s 28-20 victory over Lower Richland.
All Nelson would do in his return would be to direct a CHS offense which piled up 371 yards in offense. Nelson completed 10 of his 16 passes overall, including clicking on his final six attempts of the night, for 158 yards and two touchdowns without an interception to spoil his effort.
Neal said that showed the type of individual Nelson is to come off the bench, after being demoted, and lead his team to victory.
"I’m proud of Jaylen," Neal said. "He played a heck of a game for us and did some good things out there. Probably the best one was a check down to Chase (Truesdale) on a crossing route which came after Jaylen went through a read or two.
"We were also doing a good job with the verticals and some jump ball stuff to D.J. (Wilson) and Taylor (Kelly) because they were better than their corners and we wanted to keep taking shots at them."
In a game during which some of the calls by the officiating crew led Neal to, at worst, scratch his head in disbelief or, at best, vehemently argue, the one decisonmade by Blue Devil head coach Treigh Sullivan with his team trailing, 13-10 and facing a fourth and 19 from the CHS 35 with a little more than a minute left in the first half was the most puzzling.
Camden, thinking that DHS quarterback Avery Armstrong was going to quick-kick the ball out of the shotgun formation, sent Darius Smith deep to return a possible punt. Instead, Armstrong ran the ball and gained one yard as the Bulldogs took over from the visitors’ 36 with 58.5 clicks left in the first half clock.
Nelson called his own number on first down, running for 14 yards. On third and 10 from the 22, he found the 6-foot-6 Truesdale just inbounds at the 12 for a gain of nine. Kendrice Slater, who would rush for 122 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns, picked up the first down with a four-yard run to the eight with 15.5 seconds left.
After Nelson stopped the clock by spiking the ball to the ground, he zipped a pass to Kelly, who sneaked his way inside the right pylon for the touchdown which put the hosts on top, 20-10, with 10.6 seconds left before the break.
While not wanting to second-guess Sullivan’s decision to go for the first down on fourth and 19, Neal said he thought the second-year Blue Devil head coach may have been mixed up as to the down.
"I have no idea what that was all about," Neal said. "I think, well, I’m guessing, that because after third down, he may have thought it was still third down because it was an intentional grounding call. I’m thinking the coach must have thought it was third down, but I think they called a time out, too, to get it straightened out.
"He just gambled and thought that he might trick us, I guess. Obviously, that was a big boost for us."
It turned out to be even larger as the Dogs took the opening second half kickoff at their own 23 for a series which turned into Taylor’s highlight reel.
After running for 28 yards on a speed sweep, the six-foot, 180-pound junior made a spectacular catch in going well over the DHS defensive back to come down with and somehow hold onto the 28-yard alley-oop pass from Nelson at the Blue Devils’ 23.
From that point, it was all Slater as he carried three consecutive times with the third of those resulting in a six-yard scoring burst while bowling over helpless would-be Dreher tacklers en route as the lead spiked to 26-10 with 8:31 showing on the third quarter clock.
"That was a big sequence for us," Neal said as to ending the first half and opening the second with touchdown.
The 16-point cushion loomed even larger with the Blue Devils having lost star tailback Lorenzo Ward to his re-injuring his high ankle sprain following his losing three yards on a carry in the opening two minutes of the second stanza. Ward missed his team’s overtime victory over RNE a week earlier and was at far less than 100 percent on this night, but he and the DHS staff decided to give him a go, regardless.
With Ward out of the game, that shifted the burden to get the Blue Devil offense on the shoulders of talented quarterback Avery Armstrong. The junior ended up passing for 270 yards and running for another 90.
But Armstrong had two interceptions, the second of which came on his team’s first possession of the second half when CHS safety and birthday boy Nelson Semple stepped in front of an Armstrong offering at his own 44 and returned the pick 19 yards to the DHS 38.
Just like he did with Kelly one series earlier, Nelson lofted an alley-oop pass to the 6-foot-4 Wilson who went up for the lob, which was tipped, maintained his concentration and grabbed the 28-yard pass on his way to the ground at the Blue Devils’ nine.
It was Slater time from there as the 212-pound tailback went for eight yards on first down and went in from a yard out on third and goal with his third scoring run of the night as the hosts padded their lead to 32-10 with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils responded with a nine-play, 71-yard scoring march which was without controversy.
On second and 15 from his own 34, Armstrong lost control of the football well before his arm was in throwing motion. The loose ball was recovered by Camden inside the DHS 30. But the official deemed Armstrong was throwing the ball and called the play an incomplete forward pass despite a picture from a photographer indicating otherwise.
With a new life, Armstrong found wide out Jalique Tinsley with a 45-yard scoring pass as the senior got behind a Camden defender as the Blue Devils closed the gap to 32-16 with 2:46 to play in the third.
Dreher stopped the Dogs on fourth and two from their own 15 by stacking Slater up just inches short of the first down. In desperation mode, with 7:59 left in the game, the Blue Devils kept the ball in Armstrong’s hands for each of the 13-play scoring drive.
Armstrong ran the ball five times for 34 yards and completed five of eight passes in the 86-yard scoring drive which culminated with his scoring on a four-yard bootleg with 4:02 left as the Blue Devils trimmed the deficit to 32-22 after Armstrong was repelled on the two-yard conversion run.
"He’s a special guy, a special player," Neal said of Armstrong. "He got a bunch of yards on us because they kept running him. When we got the lead, though, it was tougher for him to run the ball. That was what they had to do. (Armstrong) was all they had."
Camden came right back after Semple recovered the onside kick at midfield. From there, the Bulldogs went with their power running game with Jamar Byrd and Slater getting the first four calls with Byrd picking up 15 yards on two carries with Slater going for 17 on two tries as the Bulldogs had a first and goal from the nine.
On first and goal from there, sophomore fullback William Cobb made his lone carry of the night count as he went through the heart of the DHS defense untouched for his first career touchdown to push the lead to 39-22 following Semple’s PAT kick with 70 seconds left in the game clock.
Dreher closed the night in marching 52 yards against Camden’s backups with Armstrong and Tinsley hooking up for a three-yard scoring pass as the clock expired. The officiating crew was confused as to whether or not the game as over or, should DHS attempt the conversion play with no time left.
The officials met with a Camden Police officer, who takes the crew to and from Zemp Stadium, and appeared as if they were ready to leave the premises. After a lengthy discussion, Dreher was allowed to run its two-point play with Armstrong finding Tinsley on a slant pattern for the two points.
Following a field goal try which Semple appeared to have gotten a piece of, Dreher came back after a short Camden punt and traveled 42 yards on seven plays for the game’s first score with 30.4 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs came right back with a four-play, 65-yard scoring drive which included a 36-yard Nelson-to-Kelly hookup to the DHS 20. Slater did the honors, following up a nine-yard run with an 11-yard scoring jaunt as CHS trailed, 7-6, with 11:08 left in the first half.
A Dreher field goal gave the guests the 10-6 advantage which stood up until DeSonta Cauthen made an over-the-shoulder grab of an Armstrong offering at his own 46. The CHS junior defensive back return the pick to the Blue Devils’ 24.
Moving to the eight, CHS faced a fourth and five and called a time out. Nelson then dropped back and could not find either of his first two options open. He then sent a laser to Truesdale, who was charging to his left and made the grab along the back line of the end zone for the touchdown which gave the lead to the hosts for keeps at 13-10 with 2:02 left before intermission.
Saying the physicality of the game left several of his players bruised, Neal was able to take solace in the fact that his team has put itself in playoff position with a 2-1 record with two region games left.
"You don’t know what’s going to happen in this region," he said. "Everybody’s tied for first, just about. All we can do is take care of our own business."
Bulldog Bites:With many of the ’64 Team in town and watching from the stands, Neal admitted to this night being a little more pressure-packed with that group in the house. "Of course," Neal said, managing a bit of a smile for the first time of the night, "they didn’t give up 30 points in an entire season." … After having scored one touchdown in Camden’s first six games, Slater has now scored five in the last two after his trio of trips to the end zone on Friday … Truesdale, meanwhile, has scored on touchdown grabs in each of the past two games … The blocked kick was the fifth of the year for Semple who had his third straight game with a punt of 50 yards or better on Friday while being serenaded by a chorus of "Happy Birthday" from the student section during the pre-game Bulldog Walk … Kelly led all Camden receivers with five catches for 87 yards while carrying the ball three times for 55 yards.