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Clyburn, Knights excited about visit from Bulldogs
CHANCE MANGUM ... NC offensive lineman

Camden at North Central

Records: CHS: 1-0; NC: 1-0

Series record: CHS leads, 4-0

Last meeting: CHS, 57-14, in 2009

Radio-Internet: Kool 102.7 FM 1590 AM,, and the kool 102.7 mobile app beginning with the pre-game show at 7 p.m.

TV: Tonight’s game will be re-broadcast on TruVista Cable Channel 39 next Wednesday at 8 p.m. and again on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 9 a.m. 

The Skinny: The North Central staff includes three Camden High graduates. Head coach Louis Clyburn and running backs coach Robbie Cash are both 1990 CHS grads while defensive line coach Eddie Deese graduated from Camden High in 1988 … First-year Camden High assistant coach Joe Bowers was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs in 2006 and led the Dogs to a season-opening 28-7 win over North Central in the first football meeting between the two in-county schools … With four interceptions in last week’s 49-27 win over Lugoff-Elgin, Camden equaled its output in that category from a year ago … North Central limited Eau Claire to minus (-6) six yards in total offense on 36 snaps in last Friday’s 33-6 victory over the Shamrocks … This is the second of six straight homes games for NC, which has a bye next week. The Knights will play seven of their 10 regular season contests in Boonetown … Clyburn is 0-1 against his high school alma mater, losing to CHS in his first year at the Knights’ helm in 2009. Neal is 4-0 against North Central.

Tickets and parking: In anticipation of the large crowd expected for tonight’s game in Boonetown and to alleviate lines at the two gates, advance tickets are on sale at both schools for $6 each. 

Additionally, there will be parking behind the NC field house and along Keys Lane as well as at North Central Middle School (located on Keys Lane.) Fans parking in that vicinity and parking lot can walk across the street and enter Knights Stadium through the North (back) gate. NC officials will have the softball field and football practice field lights on for the safety of fans making their way into and out of the stadium before and after the game.

As a kid growing up in Camden, Louis Clyburn knew where he, his friends and neighbors would be on Friday nights in the fall.

As soon as school let out for the week, it was time to get ready, pack up the car and head to a high school football game. By the time he reached high school, he was playing in those games for Camden. Now, as the head coach at North Central, Clyburn’s late summer and fall Friday night still revolve around football.

Clyburn said he would not have it any other way.

“This is a tradition-rich community,” said Clyburn who went on to play at Duke University. “You grow up in Camden and Kershaw County and you know what’s going on on Friday night; it’s high school football. That’s a tradition where, regardless of where you’re from, once you move into this community, you figure that out. I think we’re rejuvenating that.”

Part of that process involves getting more youth players involved in football throughout the county, something in which Clyburn, Camden head coach Jimmy Neal and Lugoff-Elgin head coach Matt Campbell have played a leading role.

Tonight, many set of eyeballs from Kershaw County will be focused on Boonetown as Camden visits North Central in football for the first time since 2009. The game is expected to attract the largest crowd in Knights Stadium since the Bulldogs’ last visit there in 2008.

Clyburn, for one, is glad that the two sides could get together again after a seven-year hiatus.

“It’s neat,” Clyburn said of facing his alma mater. “Scheduling games is kind of a unique situation. You have a region schedule that you have to navigate and we’ve been stuck in a seven-team region for a few years which kind of handcuffs us with what we’d like to do with our schedule.

“We’ve gotten together and we’ve been able to work this out. I’m excited about any time that we can be a part of something in-county. It was fun playing Lugoff-Elgin in the jamboree (two weeks ago in Camden.) I think the players and the fans enjoyed that. What we have to do is to get our community excited about football.”

For the visiting Bulldogs, tonight is the second of three rivalry games to open the season. Camden bested Lugoff-Elgin, 49-27, last Saturday and will host Hartsville next Friday in the state’s oldest reported rivalry.

Neal knows the trappings of playing the week after squaring off against the Demons and the letdown scenario which he has seen play out over his first 18 seasons at his high school alma mater. It does not matter that the Knights hail from some 15 miles up the road or, whether they were located on the Grand Strand or the Piedmont regions of the state, this has always been a tough game for the Bulldogs to get up for emotionally.

“It was an emotional win this past week, especially with the (one-day weather) delay and stuff like that,” Neal said. “Whoever we play after Lugoff-Elgin, we don’t play quite as well as we did in that game whether it’s game one, game four or game 10. You just have to get through it. Hopefully, our guys will get through it the way we want them to. That’s not an excuse, that’s just the way it is.”

In its victory over L-E, Camden amassed 463 yards in offense and it could have easily been more than 500 yards had it not been for penalties. But the Dogs also allowed 377 yards in offense to the 4A Demons. It was not all peaches and cream and congratulatory slaps on the backs during and after Monday’s film session on York Street.

“It’s always easier to coach after a win but we have a lot of cleaning up to do,” Neal said. “Our guys saw the video and a lot of the mistakes we made and how we have to correct things. We have to become more disciplined and do the things winners and champions do. And, some things we did.

“I thought we had tremendous effort from our guys last week. If we get that again, then we’ll take whatever happens. Hopefully, we’ll be sharp and we’ll execute on Friday but we have to do better than we did this past week.”

Last Friday, the Knights were able to get their game in with Eau Claire and breezed by the Shamrocks in a one-sided, 33-6 affair. The NC defense throttled the guests who were held to minus (-5) yards in offense on the night. The Rocks’ lone score came on a third quarter kickoff return for a touchdown.

Offensively, NC racked up 360 total yards with 304 of those coming on the ground thanks in large part to senior tailback Cedrick Cunningham who rushed for 191 yards on 26 carries while finding the end zone three times.

At one point during the night, Clyburn was informed that inclement weather had postponed the Camden at Lugoff-Elgin game back to Saturday night. The change allowed Clyburn, several members of his coaching staff as well as some of the Knight players to see tonight’s opponents in person rather than just watching a video of the game.

“Some of our coaches and some of our players were there and it was certainly good to see them on the hoof rather than just watching the video because you can see different things,” he said of the Bulldogs. “You just get a better feel for players when seeing them on the hoof; things like what their quarterback looks like and what does their running back look like.

“It was good for us to see but at the same time you say that, ‘Yup. They are pretty good.’ We have our work cut out for us but we’ve been working hard this week. We’ll just see how things work out for us Friday night.

“Camden has a great football team and they pulled out a great victory in a very emotional contest. That’s a tribute to Coach Neal and his team.”

Neal hopes tonight will be a cleaner game for his team in all phases. This week, he said, was used to improve in several areas, including the mental part of the game.

“We have to improve on our tackling; it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good,” he said. “Our lack of discipline in the middle of some heated incidents … I didn’t think we handled that very well. Instead of walking away and keeping our mouth shut, we responded back and the second person always gets the flag. 

“I think we have to stay on blocks longer. I thought our offensive line played well and did some good things. 

“One thing we have to keep working on and that we worked on all off-season was ball drills with our defensive backs. There were some jump-ball situations that we didn’t play well. We were in position to make the play but we didn’t end up making the play so, we have to correct that.”

While Camden has used the week to get better, it also had to change its focus on defense for the Knights, who lost starting quarterback Michael Williamson to a season-ending shoulder injury in the team’s second and final scrimmage. Neal and the Bulldogs saw the NC junior during the summer in 7-on-7 passing league games and knew of him. In his replacements, sophomore Tyler Faulkenberry who will be spelled by brothers Zack and Jamel Jones, the visitors face a new set of challenges on defense for tonight.

“One of the scrimmages they traded with us, (Williamson) was playing and then in the next, he wasn’t. It’s a different team that you have to prepare for,” Neal said. “Williamson is a good player and we respect that. Now, we have to defend another guy and see what happens.

 “We’re expecting to see the run. They do a good job with their scheme. They also run some nice routes that we’ll have to defend that will stress us on in the secondary.”

Last Saturday, Devin Beckley threw for 204 yards and two touchdowns for Camden while tailback Jericho Murphy went for 129 yards and two scores in the Bulldogs’ no-huddle set which included eight catches for 151 yards from Avery Barnes.

“They have a lot of different ways that they can move the ball,” Clyburn said of Camden’s offense. “Certainly, (Jericho Murphy) is a really good football player but you can’t say that if you stop him, you can stop their offense because they have other players they can go to. Devin Beckley does a good job of spreading the ball around and operating that offense.”

With the weatherman calling for the thermometer to rise into the upper 90s today, it will lead to the NC staff having to make sure their two-way players stay hydrated and rested. Neal said his quick-tempo offense will not change in trying to keep the pressure on a Knights’ defensive unit which will have several players playing on both sides of the ball.

“I do think it could be an advantage for us with those guys playing both ways. You go out there and play the way you do and they play the way they do, it’s going to tire some guys out. It does matter,” Neal said of his offensive unit going up against two-way players.

Clyburn said in a battle between a AAA program in Camden and his AA entry, the numbers game favors the Bulldogs.

“The biggest challenge that we have,” he said, “is that they have offensive players, they have defensive players and they have special teams players. 

“It is not necessarily that they have that many more players than us but it is those experienced players on offense and defense. We’re not to the point, yet, where we have 11 guys who are playing well enough to be offensive starters and then have another 11 guys who are playing well enough to be defensive starters. That’s the challenge you have at any small school.

“Our biggest challenge will be figuring out a way to keep our guys fresh and at their peak the entire football game because when Camden’s offense rolls off the field, they’re over there regrouping on the sidelines while the defense is out there playing. That’s the advantage and what you have to overcome when you have a smaller school playing a bigger school. That will be the biggest challenge for us this week.”