CHAPIN – Throughout what was three-game win streak, ball security and finding a balance on offense between the run and the passing games led Camden to making a run at the Region 4-AAA title.
That journey as well, as the paucity of turnovers and a balanced offense, came to an abrupt ended here on Friday night as the visiting Bulldogs dropped their regular season finale to Chapin, 28-10, at Cecil Woolbright Field.
The loss capped a 5-5 regular season and a 3-2 conference campaign for Jimmy Neal’s charges which will finish third in league play and, should the S.C. High School League’s Appellate Panel overturn last Thursday’s SCHSL Executive Committee decision of a stay on Camden’s post-season ban, the Bulldogs will be on the road for a first round AAA Upper State playoff game.
Friday’s loss capped a frustrating two days for Camden along Interstate I-26 corridor, given the fact its first unsuccessful appeal of its post-season ban was heard several miles east of Chapin.
On a night in which the Dogs were hoping to capture or, gain a share of the conference crown, four turnovers, a struggling passing game and other maladies came back to bite a team which had done little wrong in their previous three games.
"I don’t know what was wrong tonight," Neal said after his team held its senior salute in the west end zone. "We didn’t execute well.
"You hate to go out like this, if this was our last game. The effort was good. In pre-game, our guys were bouncing around, throwing and catching balls; we were wide-open and we felt pretty good about where we were going to be. And, we kind of started like that; we had a good little start going for us. I don’t know what happened. We just didn’t play well."
What did happen on the plus side for the guests was senior tailback Kendrice Slater returning from a one-game suspension and carrying the ball 26 times for 158 yards and a touchdown. But drops and misfires in the passing game led to just 42 yards in the air as Camden had 212 yards in offense on 66 snaps. But four of those 66 resulted in turnovers which turned into two Chapin touchdowns while another Camden miscue on a bad snap to punter Nelson Semple set up a third Eagle score.
As for the hosts, junior quarterback Logan Bailey, whose father John Bailey had served as an assistant on Neal’s staff at Camden, completed 11 of his 21 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 64 yards with 56 of those coming on his final carry for a touchdown.
It was a 29-yard Bailey-to-Noah Schelble scoring toss with no time left in the second quarter clock, though, which proved to be the back-breaker for the CHS defense as the hosts carried a 21-10 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Leading, 14-10, the Eagles defense got a stop and gave the ball to their offense at their own 19 with 70 ticks left in the first half clock following a 43-yard Parker Rankin punt. In their usual hurry-up mode, the Eagles used a 24-yard Bailey-to-Caleb White completion then, a 25-yard strike from Bailey to Nate Blankenship to the CHS 24 with less than 12 seconds to play.
After a procedure call pushed the ball back to the 29, with two seconds left, Smith Dawsey was lining up to attempt a 46-yard field goal. Offsetting penalties, prior to the snap, allowed Justin Gentry’s staff to rethink the situation and after a few moments of discussion, Bailey and the offense returned to the field. Schelble got behind the CHS defense and hauled in a strike in the right corner of the end zone as Chapin’s lead went from four to 11 points in the blink of an eye.
"We had a freshman over there who is used to being better than everybody and can’t believe that anybody can run by him," Neal said. "And, it just happened this time."
Camden’s offensive problems started on its first play from scrimmage at its own eight as White picked off a pass at the Bulldogs’ 35. Chapin needed just one play to find the end zone with Bailey spotting a wide-open Evan Estridge on a seam route in the middle of the field which the 6-foot-2 junior
wide out grabbed before being hit at the five only to get into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 7:54 to play in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs responded by traveling 68 yards on a dozen plays on a run-heavy drive which was kick-started by a 13-yard run to the Chapin 46 from Ethan Harris, who got the starting nod at tailback. From there, the Eagle defense received a steady dose of the 212-pound Slater who got the call on five of the final six plays. He followed up a nine-yard run to the four by crashing in from there with the game-tying touchdown Nelson Semple’s PAT kick then evened things at 7-7 with 2:21 to go in the opening stanza.
The Camden special teams set up the go-ahead score for the guests as Omar Mingo blocked an Estridge punt, setting the Dogs up at the Eagles 38 with 11:52 left in the first half.
Using a bit of trickery on first down, Semple was inserted into the game at wide receiver and he took the reverse handoff from quarterback Jaylen Nelson and heaved a long pass which was just outside the reach of D.J. Wilson, who was alone inside the 10.
Slater got most of those yards back with an 18-yard run and another carry for two to the 18. A pass interference call against the Eagles in the end zone gave Camden a new set of downs at the nine. Slater then went for six yards to the three, but a botched handoff resulted in a loss of six as Camden was forced to settle for a 27-yard Semple field goal for a 10-7 lead at the 9:12 mark of the second quarter.
It was then Chapin’s turn to turn the ball over after having driven to the Bulldogs’ 13. On second and 11 from there, Jo Jo Watson, who was inserted at cornerback on that play, stepped in front of a Bailey offering, getting his first career pick in the end zone.
The momentum did not last long as a high snap over Semple’s head on a punt from his own 40 was recovered by the punter at the 11. Three plays later, Bailey ran behind a jumbo package for the score and the 14-10 lead with 2:09 left in the half. Two minutes and nine seconds later, after the half-ending Bailey-to-Schelble hookup, the hosts carried an 11-point lead into the break.
The first half was a series of "what ifs" for Camden.
"I thought Coach (Daniel) Sisk called an unbelievable game, especially in the first half," Neal said. "He really had them off-balance. We had a reverse pass which could have been a touchdown and a bunch of stuff we did had them fooled, but we just didn’t execute."
Nelson closed the first half clicking on just three of his 10 first half passes for 14 yards. But there were several drops, as well. Neal credited the Eagle defensive backs for playing well in the secondary and being able to read where the Camden receivers were headed on their routes.
"They did a good job of reading our guys’ hips," said the Bulldog boss. "Our guys were running too high and were showing when they were going to make their cuts and make their breaks. They were jumping us pretty good on that stuff.
"We’ve been working on that and working on that with our guys and it came back to bite us tonight."
Seemingly content to sit on their double-digit lead, the Eagles only attempted four second half passes while waiting for Camden to make its move. The Dogs did after taking control of the football from the Chapin 42 following a punt with 4:46 left in the third quarter.
The march was aided by another pass interference call against the hosts, giving the Dogs the ball at the Chapin 29. Slater then got the call four straight times, netting 12 yards to the 17. On second down from that spot, a lost fumble gave the ball to the Eagles at their own 14 with one last snap left before the start of the fourth quarter.
Another Camden fumble set Chapin up at the Camden 48. The Eagles attempted a 27-yard field goal by Dawsey only to have it blocked by Semple as the lead remained at 21-10 with 8:26 left in the contest.
A third Camden turnover of the second half, an interception by Blankenship, gave the Eagles the ball at their own 46 with 4:46 left. Running to ball to milk the clock, Bailey took a third down snap from his own 44 and ran into a pile of players, only to break free from the grasp of a tiring Camden defense and sprint in for the 56-yard touchdown and a 28-10 lead with 3:10 left.
Neal said his defense was brought to the field too many times in the second half and that unit simply gave out on the Bailey touchdown run.
"They were cooked," Neal said of his defense and its having to log too many minutes on Friday. "Our inside guys played (55) snaps tonight, which was too many. Then, we’d have a turnover here and there and they were right back on the field.
"Our defense has played outstanding all year and played that way again, tonight."
Whether this was the Bulldogs’ final game of 2014 will be decided sometime Monday morning. But this loss came on the heels of an emotional 16-6 victory over Richland Northeast the previous week. Neal shook his head when asked if that victory may have taken a lot out of his team.
"I don’t think (it was a letdown)," he said. "I think it was Chapin. Chapin played extremely well and had a good plan for us. They did a good job and, for whatever reason, we didn’t play well."
Bulldog Bites:After sending his team to the locker room following the previous week’s win over Richland Northeast, Neal and the Bulldogs returned to the customary post-game handshake line on Friday. Neal also went out of his way to shake the hands of the officials, who stayed on the field following the contest, for what may have been the most smoothly run and argument-free game of the season … In addition to John Bailey, former Camden High assistant baseball coach Jason Jolley is also a member of the Chapin coaching staff … An injury to Camden long snapper Will Warnock in the first quarter led the Dogs to going to a third-string snapper for punts as Rankin, the punter, is usually the back-up long snapper … Camden tight end Chase Truesdale was helped from the field with an injury to his right knee after catching a three-yard pass inthe third quarter … Before the game, CHS junior offensive guard William Warnock, who has missed most of the season due to illness, paid a surprise visit to the locker room ... Included among the "Chapin Crazies", the Eagles’ large and loud student section, was a young man dressed up as and being a dead-ringer for USC head coach Steve Spurrier, complete with a USC visor and headset.