For several weeks, Camden was missing something. And, it perplexed the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.
Then, as if the team returned from a scavenger hunt having found one of the items on the list, it all came back to Jimmy Neal’s charges in a 28-20 road win over Lower Richland. The victory gave the Dogs a 1-1 record in Region 4-AAA play heading into tonight’s visit from once-beaten Dreher.
All Neal hopes is that whatever his team brought to Hopkins last week, they have kept for this evening’s game in which the school’s famed ’64 Team will be the guests of honor.
"I think this team is maturing, as far as that goes," Neal said. "They’ve always practiced hard and they practice well, but the focus wasn’t always as good as we would have liked it to be; something was missing. Something just wasn’t quite there.
"It was a different feel last Friday night and I certainly hope that continues."
Camden played with emotion against the Diamond Hornets. Its bench was buzzing, especially during a dominating second half performance in which the defense held the hosts to just 62 yards of offense from 21 snaps without surrendering a point. Meanwhile, the Bulldog offense scored two second half touchdowns in the come-from-behind victory.
Also among the items which the Dogs found last week was its rushing attack. Paced by a 22-carry, 201-yard, two-touchdown effort from senior tailback Kendrice Slater and 57 more yards on nine carries from senior fullback Dillon Price, Camden rolled up 280 yards on the ground after having managed just 38 in its previous two games combined.
While the guests rode the legs of the two seniors, Neal was quick to point out that the group in front of his running backs was blowing open large holes along the LR defensive front.
"We had a lot of guys who blocked extremely well and did some good stuff for us,"said the Bulldog boss. "Trey Walker is a good run blocker and we put him in there at guard and he blocked extremely well. Timmy King had his best game. Josh Wilson, Dylan Reyes, Deshawn Sumpter, Chase Truesdale and Parker Rankin had a good game blocking, as well."
While the offensive line enjoyed it best game to date this season, that group will be closer to full-strength tonight with Tariq Johnson back after missing last week’s game to attend a family funeral. Walker, who was injured in the second half of last Friday’s win, was back at practice. Junior Robert Warnock is still out for an all-underclassmen interior front which found its sea legs in Hopkins.
The news on the injury front also got better with fullback Jamar Byrd back from a neck injury, giving the Dogs another weapon in the backfield. Defensively, senior defensive tackle Tyrik Jones returns after having sat out last week with a neck injury.
Getting healthier created a positive vibe around the CHS practice fields this week.
"Obviously, you feel good after a win," Neal said. "Good things happened last week and our guys faced adversity. We had several starters out and I thought we had guys step up and make good plays. That was neat to see."
On the down side, Camden’s practice routine was altered by Tuesday’s threatening weather as Neal and company were ready to practice indoors due to the wet conditions. Instead, the lack of wind and rain led to a regular, if not altered practice day.
"On Tuesday," Neal said, "we went backwards because we didn’t think that we’d be able to go outside with the weather. Then, we went outside and got a whole practice in, but we went in reverse. We went team first, then pass skel and all the way down to special teams."
As for Dreher, the Blue Devils are off to a 6-1 start and 2-0 in 4-AAA play. The lone smudge for Treight Sullivan’s squad has been a 17-14 loss to Airport in week three. The guests routed class A Fox Creek, AA Columbia, 4A Aiken and 1A C.A. Johnson. After opening region play with a 12-14 victory over Lower Richland, Dreher outlasted winless Richland Northeast, 30-29 in overtime, a week ago.
Neal said with tailback Lorenzo Ward and quarterback Avery Armstrong in tow, the Blue Devils are a dangerous outfit.
"They’re pretty good," Neal said of tonight’s opponent. "Ward and Armstrong are two special guys. They’re a solid team and well-coached."
Dreher will line up in the spread and try to spring Ward, who did not play last week, for big gains. But the Blue Devils will also line up in the I-formation and will also employ two tight ends and two flankers, on occasion, as well. Defensively, they will bring plenty of pressure, early and often, with the blitz out of their 3-5 scheme.
While two wins in their final four games will set the Bulldogs up well for a return to the post-season, Neal was adamant in saying his team is not looking down the road.
"The focus has only been on Dreher. We haven’t talked about anybody after Dreher or anything like that," he said. "Obviously, after we lost our first region game, this is a big game. We have to be ready to go. But, they’re all big at this point."