Sending out a first-time starter at quarterback behind a young and rebuilt offensive line is hardly the recipe for a big offensive night. And, it wasn’t for Camden.
Going up against an experienced and unbeaten A.C. Flora squad, the host Bulldogs could not handle the Falcons’ senior front line or, the talented right toe of Joseph Charlton in a 29-13 homecoming night loss at Zemp Stadium on Friday.
The setback was the third in a row for Jimmy Neal troops which fell to 2-4 overall following the Region 4-AAA opener. The fifth-ranked Falcons, meanwhile, stayed perfect through six games while avenging a 34-33 loss to Camden, in Columbia a season ago, in the process.
Flora got to CHS sophomore starting quarterback Devin Beckley for seven first half sacks. Not showing any favoritism, the visitors sacked his replacement, junior Jaylen Nelson, once in his abbreviated stint during a second half in which Camden ran just 14 plays from scrimmage.
Hoping to get 6-foot-4, 290-pound guard Robert Warnock back in the next few weeks, the junior’s return can’t come soon enough as Neal and company are trying to piece together an all-underclassmen front line.
“That guy (ACF’s 5-11, 272-pound senior lineman Tyrell Goodwin) who was lining up on our sophomore (Josh Wilson) is a good football player. He’s a very powerful guy,” Neal said. “But our guy battles and fights like crazy. I love that kid; he does his best and you can count on him for 48 minutes.
“He plays as hard as he can and knows about every position on the offensive line; it’s important to him. Good things are going to happen for guys like that.”
Thanks to the sacks and slips, Camden’s running game went for 22 yards on 28 rushes with junior wide receiver Taylor Kelly picking up 41 yards on a reverse in his lone carry of the night and season to lead the way. On their running plays, the Dogs were held to zero or negative yardage 16 times.
For all of Camden’s struggles on offense, its defense allowed just two touchdowns on an evening in which USC commitment Joseph Charlton booted three second half field goals --- including a 52-yard moon shot which left Zemp Stadium --- while sophomore linebacker Lane Botkin returned an interception 29 yards for a first quarter score to give the guests a quick 12-0 lead.
The Bulldogs did not create many chances for themselves as they missed the chance to stop Flora marches by being unable to pick up a pair of loose fumbles. Nor could they find a way to slow down Falcons wide receiver Denzel Johnson who caught seven of quarterback Brendan Greene’s 11 pass completions for 131 of his team’s 193 passing yards.
“We didn’t make plays and they did,” Neal said. “They’re a real good team. They get after you, they stress you in the running and passing game. I don’t think they ran the ball great against us. They threw the ball really well, at times, and when they weren’t doing that, we were stopping them.
“They’re a good club, though. You tip your hat and move on.”
Two years after having put 84 points on Camden on this same field, Flora looked like it might be heading in that same direction on Friday as the Falcons took advantage of a short punt and a short ---34 yards --- field to score on their first offensive possession.
Keeping the ball on the ground for the first three plays, the Falcons’ first pass of the night went for a score as Greene sent a flare to his left to Johnson, who lined up in the slot, and the 6-foot-2, 194-pounder went down the sidelines for the 22-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead after Charlton pulled his PAT kick at the 7:45 mark of the first quarter.
Flora’s second sack of the game came after CHS opened its second series with a 12-yard run by Kendrice Slater to the 32. On second and 17 from the 25, Botkin sat in coverage and picked off the pass at the Camden 29 and went untouched into the end zone. And with 6:26 showing on the first quarter clock, the Falcons had already found the end zone twice and led, 12-0.
The Falcons took advantage of another short punt after their defense stopped Camden for a third time.
This time, the guests went 47 yards on five plays in a series which saw tight end Lowndes Pope recover his own fumble at the CHS 40 after a pass catch. There were three Bulldogs in the vicinity of the loose ball, but the Falcon tight end won the battle to keep the drive going.
Greene hooked up with Johnson for 31 yards as he found his favorite receiver across the middle with Johnson being knocked out of bounds at the one. That set up a one-yard Corey Riley plunge. Pope would then haul in the two-point PAT pass from backup quarterback Carlton Andrews to give the guests a 20-0 lead with 9:50 to play before intermission.
Neal later lamented his team’s two missed chances to come up with the loose football which led to the touchdown and, later, a field goal.
“We had about two or three chances to fall on fumbles,” he said. “That’s part of it. We had guys who were trying to make plays.”
Camden made headway on its ensuing drive which started from its own 18. Beckley found Kelly with a nine-yard first down pass and, following another sack hit Drew David over the middle for 12 yards and a first down at the 37 on a play in which the CHS wide receiver was taken down by a blow to the helmet.
On second and six from the 41, Kelly came around from the right side and took a double-reverse handoff which he took in front of the Falcon bench for a 41-yard gain before being knocked out of bounds at the 18. On third and eight from the 16, Beckley just missed hooking up with 6-foot-4 wide out D.J. Wilson in the end zone. Camden went right back to that route on fourth down. This time, Wilson went over the smaller defensive back, made the catch and stayed inbounds for the touchdown. Nelson Semple tacked on the PAT kick and with 5:25 left in the first half, the Dogs had trimmed the lead to 20-7.
In a second half of keep-away by the Flora offense, the Bulldog defense kept repelling the Falcons. The first series of the second half saw ACF march to the Camden 17 only to call on Charlton for a 34-yard field goal and a 23-7 lead with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
Charlton struck again, from 37 yards away, with 1:54 to play in the third quarter before adding his 52-yard bomb with 9:53 left to play in the contest in a series which opened at the CHS 33 after the Falcons snuffed out a fake punt by Semple who slipped on the play.
For the second week in a row, Camden’s defense logged far too many minutes on the field but, again, showed their mettle under tough circumstances.
“They scored 29 points but our defense really played a good game,” Neal said. “I think our defense is playing their hearts out and, our offense is, too. Our offense is playing their tails off but we’re just not making the plays we want to be making right now.”
Camden’s special teams came up with the Dogs’ fourth return for a touchdown this year when Semple blocked Thomas McCutchen’s 32-yard field goal try. The loose ball was scooped up by CHS linebacker Tyrel Smith who sprinted 76 yards into the end zone for the touchdown to make it a 29-13 game with 1:57 left to play.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound linebacker, was coming off a 20-tackle game in the previous week’s loss to Lakewood. His effort on Friday was nearly identical.
“He’s been unbelievable. Tyrel had a heck of a game,” Neal said of Smith’s recent performances. “And (middle linebacker) Brandon McCaskill had a great game, too. A lot of our guys are doing some outstanding jobs out there.”
While Beckley got the starting nod at quarterback on this game, Neal said both he and Nelson will continues to get reps with the first team offense in preparation for Friday’s game at Lower Richland.
“Jaylen and Devin will keep practicing and will both go at it,” Neal said of his quarterback situation. “I know it’s not perfect for either one of them, but it’s where we are … that’s the lay of the land.
“I thought Devin was very calm back there and made some very good throws. He did well and he did some good things. I thought he played really well.”
Bulldog Bites: In a column by Jim Baxter in The State newspaper earlier this season, he was asked about A.C. Flora’s chances of being a state championship contender. In his answer, Baxter wrote that the Falcons still had some problems to overcome. After Friday night, one of those is penalties as Flora was called for 17 infractions for 126 lost yards … Beckley finished the night completing five of his nine passes for 55 yards while Nelson clicked on three of his five aerials for 38 … Kelly led the Dogs with four catches for 19 yards. Chase Truesdale had two grabs for 36 yards with the second of those going for 28 yards, while Wilson’s lone catch was for the 16-yard touchdown … After Kelly’s 41 rushing yards, Slater had eight carries for 24 yards while fullback Dillon Price had two carries for 10 yards … Flora ran the ball 36 times for 113 yards with Riley’s 68 yards on 11 carries leading all rushers … CHS junior fullback Jamar Byrd sat out the game after having sustained a neck injury in practice on Monday … CHS starting defensive tackle Tyrik Jones left the game in the waning minutes of play after a neck injury. After a long time lying on the ground, Jones managed to walk off the field with the aid of two teammates … The threatening skies and intermittent rain kept the Zemp Stadium crowd down.