SUMTER --- You can use your own adjective to describe Camden’s 24-0 loss to host Lakewood on Friday night at J. Frank Baker Stadium.
Since this is a family publication, we need not go into all of them. Let’s just say very little good came from the debacle which left the visiting Bulldogs with a 2-3 record after the non-conference portion of their schedule with fifth-ranked A.C. Flora coming to historic Zemp Stadium this Friday.
While the CHS defense came up big on several occasions throughout the night to help keep this one close, the offense spun its wheels. Seeking to get into a rhythm in the passing game, the Dogs started junior Jaylen Nelson in the first half before going to sophomore Devin Beckley in the second. Combined, they were 16-of 38 for 168 yards with Beckley completing eight of his 22 for 111 yards on an evening in which both signal-callers were the victim of dropped aerials.
Things were worse on the ground as CHS ran for 16 yards on 18 carries. The guests rushed for 30 second half yards after being pushed back for minus (-12) yards on the ground on eight first half carries.
The shutout was the first suffered by a Bulldog team since a 17-0 loss at the hands of A.C. Flora on Oct. 19, 2007. Calling it the most disappointing setback of his 17-year stretch as head coach of his alma mater, CHS head coach Jimmy Neal said all his team could do was to flush this game and look ahead to the five-game Region 4-AAA campaign. At the same time, he was perplexed as to what went wrong on this night.
“We just didn’t play very well,” he said in a hushed tone. “I don’t know where it all came from. We had a great week of practice but we just didn’t play well at all. We played bad.”
Camden’s struggles came in the form of dropped passes by open receivers, passes which were not on target, a lost fumble which opened the second half and a muffed punt return which opened the door to the third and final Gator (3-2) touchdown. What was an omen for the evening for the Dogs came after LHS was forced to punt after its first offensive series. The bouncing ball glanced off the heel of a Camden player as the hosts took over at the CHS 47 only to be repelled by the Bulldog defense.
Camden’s second punt after its second three-and-out to begin the game gave the Gators a short field with the ball at the CHS 32. A chop block penalty set the hosts back to the CHS 48 where they faced a third and 26. Lining up four wide receivers to his right, quarterback Roderick Charles pump-faked in their direction which sent the CHS defense to that side the field. Meanwhile, the senior tucked the ball away and scampered untouched into the end zone with the 48-yard run. Blake Carraher followed with the first of his three successful PAT kicks for a 7-0 lead with 4:48 showing on the first quarter clock.
After a third straight three-and-out, Camden’s defense was back on the field as LHS took over from its own 35 following the punt. Charles completed each of his six pass attempts for 58 yards on what would be an eight-play, 65-yard scoring march capped by Charles finding a wide-open Tyshawn Johnson in the top middle of the end zone with an 18-yard strike to make it 14-0 just five seconds into the second stanza.
Camden’s initial first down came after Carraher’s 32-yard field goal try was blocked with 61 ticks left in the first half. A seven-yard Nelson to D.J. Wilson pass play gave the Dogs a first down in the closing half minute of a first 24 minutes in which the guests netted just 29 yards on 24 snaps.
On a night in which the punters earned their keep, the Camden defense forced a Lancaster punt following the opening series of the second half. But on the first play from scrimmage, a lost fumble on a five-yard Camden carry onto the Gators’ end of the field gave the ball right back to the hosts while taking more air from Camden’s balloon.
“We get the ball back, get positive yardage and then lose the fumble … that’s tough,” Neal said of his team’s first snap of the second half.
Again, the CHS defense came up and forced a punt and then, another after a Bulldogs three-and-out. The second Lakewood punt of the second half resulted in the Gators recovering the muffed ball at the Camden 32. Two snaps later, Charles zipped a 29-yard pass to Johnson, running a seam route, for the touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
Neal later said he could not have asked for much more from his defense which helped keep this game from getting out of hand.
“I think there were some people who played extremely hard, on defense, especially. We played pretty well on defense,” he said. “We just didn’t make plays offensively.”
“I’m sure the offensive guys did too but we just didn’t see it. When we make mistakes, we notice the mistakes that we make. When you make a mistake on offense, it’s pretty glaring.”
Camden’s lone scoring threat of the evening was set up by freshman Jerico Murphy’s 38-yard kickoff return to the LHS 42.
Beckley quickly found Wilson with a 24-yard completion to the 19. Two drops and a pass interference call set the ball just outside the 10 for a fourth and inches. But the Gator defense stood tall as Jamar Byrd was stacked up along the line and came up a few links of the chain short of the first down.
Camden had one last chance to avert the shutout as the offense took over at its own 44 following a punt in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Beckley hooked up with Avery Barnes for 15 yards on a pass on which Barnes tip-toed to get inbounds. But the march fizzled when Kendrice Slater was met behind the line and lost a yard on fourth and one from the Lakewood 32.
The Gators would close the scoring when Carraher split the posts from 31 yards out with 25.9 ticks left in the game clock.
While Camden’s situation might be called a quarterback controversy by some, Neal dispelled those thoughts by saying it has always been a two-man competition between Nelson and Beckley since last spring.
“It’s been a quarterback battle the whole time,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll evaluate them every day, like we’ve been doing. “We missed a bunch of passes and we missed a couple throws that we should have had.”
As he talked to his players following the setback, Neal told them the start of the region season brings a chance for redemption with playoff berths on the line each week. That, he said, needs to be the Bulldogs’ focus as they preare for what is sure to be a stern test from the unbeaten and high-flying Falcons oa A.C. Flora come Friday night.
“We still have all our goals in front of us and we can still do a lot of good things,” he said. “We have to move on. This was a tough game. Our guys have to pull together and decide that they are tired of this.”
Bulldog Bites: Both Wilson and Taylor Kelly had five catches each to lead the Dogs in that category with Wilson having 50 receiving yards to Kelly’s 42. Barnes had four grabs for 38 yards … Camden’s longest run from scrimmage was six yards and of its 18 carries on the night, half were for no gain or, a loss of yardage … Part of Camden’s problems on offense could be due to the fact that junior Robert Warnock, who at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds is the largest player on the offensive line, missed his second staight game with an illness which preventd him from making the trip to Sumter ... Junior defensive tackle Darius Clark also sat out his second consecutive game with an injury ... Lakewood ran 59 plays for 287 yards with 156 of those coming in the passing game ... Friday’s game with A.C. Flora will make Homecoming for Camden High School