FLORENCE -- Maybe it was an omen of what the rest of the evening held in store for Camden as its team buses were stuck in the middle of I-20 after an overturned van brought eastbound traffic to a halt near Darlington early Friday evening.
The Bulldog players and staff members arrived at Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. as West Florence officials requested that the game be started at 7:45 p.m., 15 minutes after the scheduled start. CHS head coach Jimmy Neal successfully campaigned for an 8 p.m. kickoff.
The host Knights made up for lost time by returning the opening kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown --- on a reverse --- and never slowed down in a 41-27 win over the mistake-prone Dogs in a non-region game.
One week after a rather seamless performance in a 35-14 Week Zero win over Lugoff-Elgin, CHS (1-1) made enough mistakes for a month’s worth of games with five turnovers, including one which resulted in a WF (1-0) touchdown. On the flip side, the guests scored another defensive touchdown when defensive tackle Darrius Clark scooped up a fumble and went in for a 15-yard score.
But the numerous miscues, on both sides of the ball, Neal said were too much for his team to overcome.
“We’ve talked about this before,” Neal said, “that we’re always worried about this (the game after that with L-E) game. We just weren’t quite there. We played hard, we tried and there was a lot of effort, but it just was not there tonight.
“We had a great week of practice. We just didn’t execute, though. We made plenty of mistakes; we just have to get better.”
On a warm night, both no-huddle offenses tried to make the opposing defense cry “uncle.” Camden ran the ball 36 times for 216 yards while quarterback Jaylen Nelson threw for 389 yards as the guests piled up 389 yards on 62 snaps. West Florence, with its “No Huddle, No Mercy” scheme rushed for 247 yards on 41 attempts while passing for another 121 as Trey Woodberry’s troops logged 59 plays while gaining 368 total yards.
On a “no-holds barred” type of evening, the hosts set the tone when Xavier Blow fielded Nelson Semple’s opening kickoff at his own four and then handed the ball off to a sprinting Mike Lowery who reversed course and bolted down the WF sideline for a 96-yard return as the guests grabbed a quick 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into a game which started with several Camden fans not in their seats as of yet due to the traffic tie-up.
Camden seemed to be unshaken by the quick strike as the Dogs opened from their own 30 with their first possession and methodically marched down the field in nine plays with Nelson’s finding three targets for 51 of the 70 yards. The junior signal-caller hit tight end Chase Truesdale with a pass in the flat and the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder dragged nearly all the Knight defenders for a ride before finally hitting the ground at the WF 18 following a 22-yard play. Three snaps later, on third and five from the 13, Nelson zipped a pass to Taylor Kelly and the junior wideout bowled over one would-be tackler at the four before breaking loose from a tackle and diving into the end zone for his first varsity touchdown at the 7:18 mark of the opening quarter.
Camden went for two on the PAT, only to have Nelson’s pass to Truesdale tipped as it fell to the ground with WF having a 7-6 lead.
Neal said after the Knights’ quick strike to open things, it was important to respond with a scoring drive and for his team to get its legs underneath them.
“We came back down the field and scored, which was big,” he said. “I really thought we were going to be able to run the ball and move it on them but we just missed a block here and missed a block there.”
Camden’s special teams came up big when the Knights’ first possession stalled at the Camden 23. WF called on Joel Pointsette for a 40-yard field goal try but the kick was batted down by a flying Semple who was sprinting off the right edge to keep the deficit at one point.
While the guests’ errors came late, the Knights’ lone blunder occurred after the hosts took over at their own 20 following a punt. Quarterback Marquane Goodman mangled a handoff with the ball hitting the ground at his own 15. An opportunistic Darrius Clark grabbed the ball and made a bee line for the end zone. The PAT try appeared to sail through the uprights but after some confusion with the officials, it was ruled no good as Camden’s lead stood at 12-7 with 3:59 showing on the first quarter clock.
The Dogs would tack on a 26-yard Semple field goal in the opening minute of the second stanza, capping a 57-yard march which opened with runs of 20 and 14 yards by CHS tailback Kendrice Slater whose 123 yards on 20 carries led all rushers on the night. The field goal was called for when on third and six from the WF nine, Nelson was chased out of the pocket by the attacking Knight defense and gained a pair of yards to the seven.
The relentless pace of the WF offense seemed to be taking its toll as the hosts turned a 15-7 deficit into a 21-15 lead by cashing in on its next two series.
The first score, which brought the Camden lead down to one at 15-14, came when the 6-foot-3 Goodman pulled the ball on the option and went in for a 45-yard touchdown as he went inside before bouncing left for the score with 8:18 to go before intermission. The 68-yard march included Goodman’s hooking up with Romel Hatcher for 18 yards to the WF 43 on a third and 17 call.
The third WF score was set up when a muffed punt return by Camden was recovered by the Knights at their own 44. Staying on the ground for seven straight plays, the Knights were sitting at the CHS 17 after an 11-yard carry for a first down by Eron Darby. The junior did the honors from there, going up the middle for the 17 yard score which gave the hosts the lead for keeps at 21-15 with 2:18 left in a first half which ended with the same score after Pointsette’s 37-yard field goal try with no time left sailed wide right.
The Knights’ final fuirst half chance came after Camden fumbled a tunnel screen when the knocked out football rolled 20 yards to the WF 35 before it was recovered by the Knights.
Neal said his team was prepared for the WF offense, but working against the backups in practice does not equate to seeing it live.
“You try and practice that,” he said of defending the constant hurry-up scheme. “You have to weather the storm. We stopped them a time or two, then, they would get it going.
“Those running backs (Darby, Dexter Fulmore and, Goodman) are pretty special and we didn’t lock up on those guys. If I have a complaint about the defense tonight, it would be with our missed tackles. We missed way too many tackles, but those running backs had a lot to do with it.”
Halftime could not come soon enough for a Camden defense which was on the field for 35 first half snaps. And when Nelson was sacked on a fourth and seven from the WF 19 to end the first series of the second half, the Bulldog defenders were back on the field. The sack spoiled a series which began at the WF 34 after a 50-yard Ethan Harris kickoff return.
Staying on the ground, the Knights went to Fulmore on three handoffs with the senior netting 26 yards, the third of which was a 13-yard carry to the CHS 36. Goodman took it from there as he, again, faked the handoff to Fulmore, tucked the ball away and went down the left sideline, breaking through a tackle and into the end zone for the touchdown and the 28-15 lead with 8:54 left in the third.
Needing an answer to stop the bleeding, Camden rode the legs of Slater on the ensuing possession. The 212-pound senior went for 14 yards to the Bulldogs’ 40 on a fourth and one carry. On fourth and inches from midfield, fullback Jamar Byrd picked up the needed yard to keep the chains moving.
Nelson then found 6-foot-4 wideout D.J. Wilson for 36 yards to the WF two. But the drive fizzled two snaps later on a lost fumble.
Getting a three and out from the defense, the Dogs took possession at the WF 48. On second down, a Nelson-to-Wilson pass went for 29 yards to the 15. On first and goal from the 12, Nelson found Byrd coming out of the backfield and the 200-pound junior made the grab before diving into the end zone from the two. A botched snap on the PAT try kept the Dogs down by seven, at 28-21, with nine ticks left in the third quarter clock.
“Our defense played well,” Neal said, “but our offense put them in some bad spots by dropping the ball. We didn’t tackle as well as we should have. A lot of times, that comes from not being as focused as you should be.”
With its defense coming up big time and time again in the second half, including after an interception gave the Knights the ball at the CHS 31, the guests were able to hang around. But WF had one last drive left in it.
Taking over from their own 30 after a punt with 5:41 to play in the game, the hosts used a 33-yard Goodman-to-Hatcher pass on a third and seven jump ball over a CHS defender to keep the series alive. Goodman capped it with a one-yard plunge on third and goal to up the ante to 14 at 35-31 with 3:27 to play.
The Dogs had perfect position on the throw to Hatcher, but the taller senior made a play when his team needed one most. “We were right there,” Neal said of the defense on the throw. “We have to make that play. That ball has to get knocked down or intercepted.”
Camden’s final turnover resulted in a Knight touchdown as Trey Cotton picked off a pass intended for Wilson at the WF 14 and the senior cornerback set sail on an 86-yard scoring return to hike the lead to 41-21 with 72 seconds to play.
Camden had one last score left in it, however. Fielding the ensuing kickoff at his own 21, Ethan Harris went up the middle of the field and came out of a pile of players before sprinting home for the 79-yard scoring return. Another botch on the PAT snap kept the final margin at 41-27.
On a night which started on an auspicious note, things ended better with Harris’ return. The junior brought back six kickoffs on Friday and had 208 yards in returns. “Ethan is fearless back there,” Neal said of his backup tailback and kick returner. “I guarantee people are going to start worrying about that.”
The first team to get the film on Harris will be Hartsville which will come to Zemp Stadium for Friday’s home opener after dismantling Lamar, 62-12, on Friday. Neal said his team has a rather hefty challenge ahead of them in the form of the 2-0 Red Foxes.
“We have to climb out of this because (this) week is not going to be a picnic, obviously. That’s a heck of a team we’re going to play,” he said of Jeff Calabrese’s charges.
“You have 24 to 48 hours to get this game out of you. We’ll come back to practice on Monday and we’ll see what we’ve got.”
Bulldog Bites: Sitting in uniforms in a bus without air conditioning for about an hour or more on I-20 in the Friday afternoon heat led to an uncomfortable situation for the Bulldogs. At one point, with people getting out of their cars to see the cause of the delay, there was thought as to having the training staff, which was traveling in trucks to the game to bring their water coolers to the buses to hydrate the players … Byrd, who had two carries for five yards and the 12-yard scoring catch, now has four touchdowns in two games … Nelson was 12-for-26 on the night for 173 yards. Wilson was his favorite target with three catches for 75 yards while Truesdale had two grabs for 41 yards … Four of Camden’s five turnovers came in WF territory … Friday’s season-opener for the Knights was Toga Night with members of the large and vocal student body contingent wearing bed sheets for their game attire ... Shortly after scoring the Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the game, Taylor Kelly injured a thumb while blocking and was forced to sit out the final three quarters.