After playing visiting East Clarendon to a standoff in a scoreless first quarter, North Central head football coach Louis Clyburn briefly thought of reworking his team’s schedule the next time around.
That passing thought quickly dissipated as the host Knights scored the next 28 straight points for a 28-6 victory over the Wolverines.
The win was the first of the season for NC, which improved to 1-2. But the 1A visitors gave the Knights all they wanted and, then some, in this first meeting between the two sides in football.
“East Clarendon is a pretty good football team,” Clyburn said. “I didn’t do a real good job lining up our non-conference schedule.”
The Wolverines (1-1) came into Boonetown with a roster which may not have been large in numbers, but which had ample size along the interior lines with both teams playing a majority of their linemen on each side of the ball. Size-wise, however, East Clarendon was more than impressive.
“Their lines were real big. They had two kids who, like most of ours play both ways, who were both about 6-1 or, 6-2 and weighed about 260 pounds each.
“It was a real physical game along the line of scrimmage, at the outset. Both of us were trying to establish the run.”
With both sides looking to get the upper hand with the ground game, the first 12 minutes of play breezed by with neither side able to mount a serious scoring threat.
That all changed in the second quarter as the Knights scored their first victory in a game-long battle of field position by getting the ball at the EC 35 after a punt return.
“We challenged our punt return team to help us out (last) week,” Clyburn said. “They were able to do that with their punt returns which probably had a lot to do with our total yardage numbers not being as high in this game.”
With the guests’ large interior line clogging things up inside and stunting and blitzing their linebackers, NC went to the passing game with senior quarterback John Bowers finding Cedric Cunningham with a 16-yard pass to the Wolverines’ 19. Running a barrage of sweeps, the Knights got to the five with senior tailback William Jenkins taking it from there with a five-yard scoring run on a toss sweep. Bowers then booted the PAT kick for a 7-0 lead on which the hosts would not look back.
Junior defensive back DelMarcus Wood put the Knights back in business a few minutes later when he picked off a Wolverine pass at the EC 40.
The Knights then went on a penalty binge, being flagged five times in three plays as they faced a first and 35 from their own 20. Rather than trying to get the yardage back in one play, NC chipped away at it and stayed with their game plan. Finding room on the outside with Jenkins and Cunningham, the Knights marched down the field to the EC four. From there, Bowers called his own number and the senior signal-caller went in for the touchdown on a quarterback blast as the Knights carried a 13-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Thinking that EC would come out and try to get back into the game by targeting all-state wide out Marquice Elmore, the Wolverines kept the ball on the ground and controlled the football for nearly the first eight minutes of the third quarter only to see the NC defense stiffen and give the ball to its offense after stuffing the run on a fourth and two from their own 10.
“Our defense bowed their necks on that drive and kept them out of the end zone,” Clyburn said.
Facing a second and six from their own 29 on their first series of the second half, the Knights went up top with Bowers laying up a perfect pass to Jay Parks, who was running a fade pattern. Parks hauled in the perfectly thrown ball and outraced the EC defenders into the end zone with the 79-yard catch and run for the touchdown. Jenkins then took the handoff on the two-point conversion and found his way into the end zone for the score which gave the Knights a 21-0 lead.
Bowers finished the night completing six of his eight passes for 130 yards. He also ran for another 16 yards including a touchdown carry.
“John Bowers played a real good game at quarterback,” Clyburn said. “He made a very nice throw to Jay Parks on the fade route. John laid the ball up there and Jay was able to run under it to make the catch.”
The Knights’ defense got into the scoring act in the fourth quarter as sophomore defensive back Da’Shon Bethea stepped in front of an EC pass at his own 40, made the catch and sprinted home untouched for the touchdown. Bowers’ PAT kick was true to hike the lead to 28-0 with some eight minutes left in the contest.
The large lead allowed Clyburn to go to his bench and after a short punt to try and keep the ball out of Elmore’s hands, the Wolverines used the short field to avoid the shutout with a late-game scoring run. The guests went for two after the score only to have the PAT pass picked off by Hunter Wyant to keep it a 28-6 game.
The one-sided win allowed Clyburn to play his entire bench with freshman quarterback Bubba Williamson seeing valuable playing time under center.
“Everybody got to play in this game,” Clyburn said. “We have 40-something kids on this team who have all invested a lot in our program. It was nice for them to get that taste of playing and of a victory.”
On the down side, an already thinned NC offensive line suffered another blow when starting right guard Chance Mangum was injured in the third quarter. He became the fourth Knight lineman forced to leave a game this young season.
Jenkins led NC’s 129-yard rushing attack on Friday by gaining 78 yards on 14 carries. Parks was on the receiving end of five Bowers passes for 116 yards, including his 71-yard scoring grab.
Clyburn said after opening the season with consecutive single-digit losses, this victory was just what the doctor ordered.
“This was a quality win over a good East Clarendon team,” he said. “It was exciting for our kids to have a battle like this and then, come out on top.”
Clyburn said his team was able to check off several tasks on their pre-game punch list.
“The things we needed to improve on and what we did in this game,” Clyburn said, “were to field punts better, which we did, and tackle better. Their good tailback did not have any big runs against our defense all night.
“Our offensive line blocked better in this game, even though we are still banged up there. Our receivers did a good job blocking on the edge to open things up for our running backs. We also said that we had to come up with big plays and we did that with the 71-yard touchdown pass and a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown. Doing those things really help you when you are going up against a quality opponent.”