Just when Camden thought it let a golden opportunity slip through its hands, another presented itself. This time, Tyrone Kelly did not let it get out of his mitts.
A little more than a minute after the Bulldogs botched a hook and ladder play with host Lugoff-Elgin recovering the ball at its own nine, Kelly scooped up a Demon fumble on a reverse handoff at the L-E six. He woul breeze into the end zone with what was the back-breaking score to give the guests an insurmountable 28-14 lead with 2:19 left in the first half of Friday’s season opener at a jam-packed and sweat-soaked Lugoff-Elgin Stadium.
Camden would tack on a second half score, for good measure, to spoil the debut of interim Demon boss Dave Thomas with a 35-14 win.
Kelly, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior defensive end, made this his coming out party as he, unofficially, registered a quarterback sack along with three other stops coming behind the line of scrimmage. But it was the play which he did not make first contact, but in which he was in the right place at the right time, that turned this game around for good after a see saw start.
“We’re up 21-14 and we pick up the fumble and run it in for a touchdown. That was really, really big in this game,” said CHS head coach Jimmy Neal following career win number 121 at his high school alma mater.
Across the way, Thomas agreed that Kelly’s short jaunt in to the end zone turned this game in the guests’ favor. The play itself was the third time in a span of 77 seconds in which the ball changed hands.
Camden took over at the L-E 31 with 3:36 left in the second quarter after a Demon punt returner attempted to pick up a rolling ball which was surrounded by Bulldogs. When he touched but failed to pick up the ball, the muff was recovered by the Dogs which turned the ball over on the botched lateral on their first play from scrimmage.
“We were taking some chances and, we felt we had to do that, at times,” Thomas said of the decision to try a reverse handoff. “They sent pressure up the middle and we put it on the ground deep in our territory. They picked it up and (Kelly) didn’t have to run but six yards.”
L-E’s struggles came up front on both sides of the ball. Its newly installed flexbone option attack which included the wishbone set in the backfield, was stymied as the hosts managed just 67 yards on 27 carries against a veteran and attacking Bulldog defense.
Offensively, Camden rushed for 156 yards on 39 carries while starting quarterback Jaylen Nelson completed six of his 10 passes for 125 yards with 6-foot-4 senior wide out D.J. Wilson on the receiving end of five of those for 102 yards.
Thomas said Camden’s play in the trenches was too much for his Demons to overcome.
“They’re pretty good on both sides; that’s where they beat us,” he said of the lines of scrimmage. “They pushed us around a little bit. We’re a stunting team and we ran past (the ball carrier) a couple times and they were able to capitalize on it.”
“I thought our offensive line and our defensive line played really, really well,” Neal said. “I was really pleased with them. I thought they did an outstanding job.
“We pounded, pounded and pounded on offense and made some plays. D.J. Wilson made some nice catches and our tight ends, Chase Truesdale and Parker Rankin, just blocked so well.”
Friday’s game, which started in the stifling high-90s heat opened in a similar fashion to the game between the two rivals on this field two years ago, albeit without the quick strikes. Still this game was knotted at 14-14 after 6-foot-6 L-E sophomore wide receiver Elliott Campbell popped open across the middle and grabbed a 14-yard scoring toss from senior quarterback Keyshawn Martin to even things at 14-14 with 10:31 left in the second quarter. And, this game had all the earmarks of turning into a shootout.
Needing to answer, the Dogs took over at their own 40 after the ensuing kickoff and proceeded to march 60 yards on nine plays with junior fullback Jamar Byrd going in from two yards out with the second of his three scoring runs on the night for a 21-14 CHS advantage with 6:04 showing on the first half clock.
The four-plus minute drive included a 23-yard Nelson-to-Byrd strike on second and eight from the L-E 39. Byrd set up his two-yard plunge by grinding out five yards to the two on a third and one carry from the seven.
From that point, things got a tad sloppy in the final three minutes before intermission with the three turnovers in the span of less than a minute and a half changing things around momentum-wise.
Looking to put his own stamp on things, Thomas played the role of riverboat gambler right from the get-go as the Demons opened the game with a 29-yard halfback pass from Aldreacio Wells to Jordan King on the first snap of the night. King was dragged down at the Camden 36 by Darius Smith. The drive continued to pick up steam when Martin found a diving Campbell at the CHS 36 for six yards on a third and five call.
On third and five from the 31, Martin dropped back and found King all by his lonesome over the middle for a 31-yard scoring strike. Greg Ruffner tacked on the PAT and with 8:23 left in the first quarter, the Demons held a 7-0 lead.
Not content to sit on the advantage, L-E attempted an onside kick which only traveled nine yards as the Bulldogs set up shop at the Demons’ 41.
On fourth and eight from the 38, Nelson rolled right and found Wilson on a seam route for a gain of 17 to the 21. Three plays later, on third and three from the 13, tailback Kendrice Slater --- who led all rushers with 80 yards on 18 carries --- went for 12 yards to the one. Byrd did the rest, going through the middle of the line for the game-tying score which was followed by the first of five Nelson Semple PAT kicks which evened things with 5:05 left in the opening stanza.
Forcing a punt, Camden was in business again, this time at its own 42 on its second possession.
On third and five from the 47, Nelson threw a jump ball which was grabbed by Wilson who came up with the ball and landed inbounds at the L-E 24 for a first down. On the next snap, Slater went inside before bouncing out to his left and gliding in for the go-ahead score and a 14-7 lead with 1:26 remaining in the opening quarter.
Needing an answer, the Demons did so by finding more success in the passing lanes on a series which started from their own 28 and was kicked off by a Martin-to-Gunnar Catoe completion which was good for 19 yards. Two plays later, Martin sent a pass to Jermaine Jenkins who made a juggling grab at the CHS 26 for a first down on the final play of the first quarter.
Martin opened the second quarter with a seven-yard run on which Camden was flagged for a late hit. On third and 10 from the 14, Martin lofted a pass over the middle to Campbell who went in for the tying score with 10:31 left before halftime.
Martin found the mark on his first six passes and, combined with Wells’ halfback pass completion, the Demons made good on their first seven aerials for 116 of their 133 passing yards on the night. After that opening flurry, L-E did not complete another pass until backup quarterback Ben Johnson had a pair of completions in the game’s final three minutes.
“They had that one nice drive and threw that pass for a touchdown. They did a good job on that and then, they came back and threw the ball for their second touchdown,” Neal said of the L-E offensive attack in the first quarter. “It was ‘throw, throw, throw.’ They really had us off-balance. Even though we practice pass defense, we really weren’t expecting it a whole lot tonight.”
Thomas said Camden’s ability to shut down his team’s running game made it necessary for the hosts to throw the football.
“They gave us a little bit of trouble up front and shut down the veer, a little bit,” he said. “We were trying to get on the edge and we had some guys open, but we just didn’t hit them. That was to (Camden’s) credit on some that we missed because we didn’t block very well.”
Camden used the aforementioned Byrd plunge to go on top for keeps at 21-14 before Kelly’s game-buster less than three minutes later.
For Kelly, it was a breakout night in his first game as a starter. Lining up across from the more-established end in senior Welton Cauthen, Neal said Kelly may have benefitted a bit from being a relatively unknown commodity.
“What a great game,” Neal said of Kelly’s performance. “He’s very, very athletic and he’s tall and he can run. He’s one of those special guys. The guy on the other side (Cauthen), they probably stayed away from him because of what they had seen on tape. He’s as special, if not more. He’s fast, rangy and he can run. We feel good about those book end guys there.”
As has been Neal’s M.O. in his 17 years at the Bulldog helm, Camden played it close to the vest in taking over from its 36 after the second half kickoff. Slater got the call on the first three snaps and netted 19 yards on three calls as the guests started milking the clock and slowing the pace of play down.
The straw which broke the Demons’ back came when, on a third and 19 from his own 46, Nelson was chased from the pocket and took off to his right. Just before he reached the line of scrimmage, the junior right-hander sent a 40-yard strike to Wilson, who came across the field to make the catch at the Demons’ 14.
Camden continued with the ground game and trudged to the eight and faced a fourth and four. A hard count by Nelson drew the Demons offsides as the ball was moved to the four. On fourth and inches, Byrd got the call and went for three yards before capping the 10-play scoring drive which ate up more than five minutes of the clock by leaping over the middle of the line and into the end zone for the first time to put this one out of reach at 35-4 with 6:45 left.
“We wanted to whip ‘em right there, if we could,” Neal said of the opening second half series. “We had to have that first down and it was a nice job of scrambling by Jaylen and finding D.J. with that long pass to get us out of a hole. That was a great drive.”
Thomas later admitted that the oppressive heat took its toll on his players in the second half. “They wore us out,” he said of a second 24 minutes of play in which L-E ran just 14 plays from scrimmage for nine yards while Camden ran 25 second half plays while picking up 135 yards on the ground and air.
For Thomas, who has been on the job for a grand total of six weeks, just playing a real game and getting this contest under the belt was big for his team, his coaching staff and, himself.
“This was only our third time out. It just happened to be against our rival on Week Zero,” he said. “We were cut a week short. We have a lot of work to do.
“We’ll regroup and see what we need to work on, try to tune-up a little bit and make the trip up to Fort Mill next week.”
Game Notes: For all the concern as to how playing the Wateree River Rivalry game this early and how it would affect the two schools’ fundraising efforts for the United Way of Kershaw County, those fears were relieved when students raised more than $66,000 for the organization with the L-E student body winning the “battle” with more than $40,000 in donations … Given the shortened pre-season with the Week Zero contest and with the sweltering heat, the game was only stopped once by a player having to be helped after suffering cramps. A big tip of the cap needs to go to the two head trainers at the schools; Anna Harvley from L-E and Robert McCarthy from CHS for their work with their respective players … Byrd’s three touchdowns were the first three of his varsity career. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound junior went over three times on a night in which he had seven carries for 28 yards while catching one pass for 24 more … Eight different players carried the ball for Camden which substituted liberally in the second half … Martin, a six-foot senior, clicked on half of his 12 passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns … King had two of the hosts’ nine receptions for 60 yards and touchdown … Catoe led the Demons in rushing with 40 yards on eight carries. He also had a catch for 19 yards.