HOPKINS --- Don’t tell Kendrice Slater he was operating behind a patchwork offensive line. The Camden tailback is having none of that talk.
Slater, a 5-foot-11, 212-pound senior, was surprised when informed he rushed for 201 yards in the Bulldogs’ 28-20 win over Lower Richland on Friday. He then proceeded to heap all the praise on a front line which, coming into the game, was a work in progress and then, had to be re-tooled in the second half when a first-time starter went down with an injury.
“I don’t think the game plan was for me to run the ball that much,” Slater said following his 29-carry, two-touchdown performance. “It just went that way. It was more of a team effort than anything. We were moving the ball.
“Our offensive line held them up. A sophomore, Trey Watkins, came in for his first varsity game and was phenomenal. He was like a baby (Robert) Warnock. Warnock may be out, but we have a baby Warnock right there for him. (Walker’s) going to be something special.”
With Warnock missing his fourth straight game due to illness, Watkins stepped in at guard and had a strong debut until he suffered an injury late in the third quarter. That led to an already thin front line turning to sophomore defensive tackle Donovan Engram to move to the other side of the ball.
The new-look line did not skip a beat as the Dogs (3-4) snapped a two-game skid while rushing for 280 yards on 54 carries; this from an offense which ran for 38 yards combined in the previous two weeks.
After a win which put his team back in the Region 4-AAA mix with a 1-1 mark, CHS head coach Jimmy Neal was effusive in his praise for his offensive line.
“We saw other teams have success running the ball against them,” he said. “We feel we have as good a running back there is (Slater) and we kept giving Kendrice the ball.
“And I’ll tell you, now, I’m proud of our guys on the offensive line. Trey Watkins, Donovan Engram, who came over from defense this week and had to play on offense, Timmy King, Dylan Reyes, Josh Wilson, Deshawn Sumpter, Parker Rankin and Chase Truesdale blocked their tails off. They were big.”
Slater’s career-best night was followed by senior fullback Dillon Price, who ran the ball nine times for 57 yards including a 28-yard burst on his first carry. The effectiveness of the ground game allowed sophomore quarterback Devin Beckley to settle in, in what was his second straight start under center. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder went up top 13 times, completing six of those attempts, for 72 passing yards which included a game-clinching two-yard scoring toss to the 6-foot-6 Truesdale.
On a night on which had all the LR (1-6, 0-2) fans come into the stadium rather than in the tailgate area surrounding the school for homecoming, the joint would have been bursting at the seams. The loss would end the night on a somber note for LR.
Clinging to a 21-20 lead with 1:34 left in the third quarter, the guests forced a pair of incompletions from Diamond Hornet quarterback Howard Henderson to take control of the football at their own 30.
Having gashed the LR defense to that point on the ground, the Dogs continued to pound away with the running game in what would be an exhausting 13-play march which opened with Price’s two-yard carry being followed by Slater’s 11-yard run to the 43. Price then got the call on three consecutive snaps going for 11, six and three yards to the LR 38 to end the third quarter.
Next, it was Slater’s turn and he broke loose for 18 yards on a run. He then went for five yards on a third and five-plus call, setting up fourth and inches from the 11. Sophomore fullback William Cobb would bull his way inside for two yards and the first down to keep the drive going. A six-yard Slater carry to the three would set up a third and goal from the two. With LR stacking the box against the run, Beckley simply took a two-step drop and lofted a touchdown pass to an uncovered Truesdale. Nelson Semple converted on the PAT kick and with 9:01 left, the Bulldogs had a 28-20 advantage.
“That was 242 cross; it’s been a staple for us,” Neal said of a pass play to the tight end. “We used to throw it to Mo (Maurice Fountain) and Charles Bennett and those guys.”
Camden had another scoring chance after LR punter Stephon Gridine’s knee hit the ground in fielding a low snap at his own 17. But a 30-yard field goal try by Semple went wide left with 3:46 to play as the CHS defense was called back onto the field.
That unit was forced to work after Frederic Cunningham nearly scored before being dragged down at the Bulldogs’ 29 after taking a speed sweep for 51 yards. But the drive went out with a whimper after Tyrel Smith broke through the line to drag tailback Darius Reese for a loss of five on first down before defensive end Tyrone Kelly batted down a Henderson pass on fourth and six from the 25 with 1:50 to play in the game.
“If we had gotten a first down or a touchdown, we would have made it a whole lot easier on ourselves,” Neal said of the anxious final four minutes of the contest. “But we didn’t and our defense made the lead stand up with another great stand.
“Our defensive coaches, Coach (Denny) Beckley, Coach (Brian) Kersey and Coach (Casey) Faulkenberry did a great job, again, tonight”
After getting a three and out to start the game, the CHS defense gave the ball to its offense at their own 29. Beckley quickly found D.J. Wilson on a corner route for 25 yards on the first snap. Slater then set the tone for his monster night as he got the call six straight times with a 19-yard carry setting the ball at the seven. One play later, he found himself in the end zone, untouched, as the guests jumped to a 7-0 lead with 8:17 showing on the first quarter clock.
LR threatened on its second possession, only to be held on down at the Camden 26. But the hosts would cash in on defense on the second play of the second quarter when Gridine scooped up a Camden fumble at the Bulldogs’ 47 and sprinted home for the tying score just 55 seconds into the second stanza.
Camden came right back with a 78-yard scoring march which opened with Slater running the ball for 11, 19 and 14 yards on the first three snaps to get the ball to the LR 34. Beckley would then call his own number and go for a 14-yard run with Slater following with a run for 11 and then for two yards, setting up a second and goal from the seven.
Junior wide out Taylor Kelly would then come around on a speed sweep, taking the handoff from Beckley and sprinting to his left and managing to stay inbounds for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 8:23 to play in the first half.
This one started to look like a shootout as the Diamond Hornets used a 28-yard alley-oop scoring pass from Henderson to 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver Larry Collins, who went over a shorter 5-foot-8 defensive back Darius Smith for the touchdown which evened things at 14 with 6:33 to go before halftime.
“Pooh’s (Smith) right there,” Neal said of the jump ball scoring toss to Collins. “That guy just happens to be a little taller than Pooh. But Pooh played that as well as he could play it; most times, he’s able to win that battle. (Collins) is a special player.”
The hosts would carry a 20-14 lead into the intermission thanks to a 77-yard scoring drive with Henderson lofting a 60-yard throw to Collins who had gotten behind a pair of defenders at the Bulldogs’ 20. One play later, D’Andre Smith took an inside handoff and sprinted 20 yards into the end zone with 3:30 left in the half.
Taking the second half kick and starting from their own 47 after Parker Rankin recovered an LR onside kick, the Dogs went back to Slater. His first carry of 16 yards gave him his first 100-yard game of the year. He added to it with run of 14 and eight yards to set up a third and two from the LR 15. Beckley found Taylor Kelly for 10 yards to the eight before Slater followed his interior linemen in going in untouched for the score and a 21-20 lead with 9:19 left in the third quarter.
“I give all the credit to my offensive line. I would not have been able to do it without them,” Slater said humbly after the win. “This game, everybody stepped up and everybody did what we were supposed to do.”
From there, Camden’s defense took things over as they threw a blanket over the LR offense in the second 24 minutes. After the hosts used the long passes to Collins to ring up 205 first half yards, the Diamond Hornets were limited to just 62 yards in total offense --- 51 of those coming on Smith’s speed sweep, which was the only carry of better than five yards in the second half for LR --- on 21 second half snaps.
While outside the stadium, all the tents and barbecuing made the setting similar to a college tailgating scene, inside, this game was almost along the lines of an elimination game with the loser having loads of work to do in order to stay alive in the playoff chase.
Neal refused to call it a “must win” situation, but said his squad prepared for the contest as if they had a chip on their collective shoulder and, had something to prove.
“When you practice really, really well like our guys did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when it was hotter than normal for this time of year …,” he said. “They practiced like it was important to them and practiced the way it was supposed to be done. They focused on this game.
“The only thing we told them was that all we cared about was this game. We didn’t carry about any other game the rest of the season. That’s all we talked about and they were focused, which is what it takes every game.”
Bulldog Bites: The tailgating scene outside the stadium was like one at a college game with smoke and the smell from the barbecuing being taken in well before you arrived at the stadium … Wilson was on the receiving end of two Beckley passes for 48 of Camden’s 72 passing yards … Truesdale’s touchdown was his first of the season while Slater’s two scoring runs were his second and third of the season … With starting defensive tackle Tyrik Jones out with a neck injury suffered in the previous week’s loss to A.C. Flora, senior Kelton Young stepped in and had a big night with, at least, two tackles for loss while putting plenty of pressure on Henderson when he went back to pass … Camden opens a two-game homestand on Friday against Dreher on a night in which the school will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ’64 team during