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All systems go for Knights and Vols
Hayes
DAMIEN HAYES ... NC defensive lineman

North Central at Andrew Jackson

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

Records: NC: 3-3, 0-2 in 4-AA; AJ: 2-4, 0-2 in Region 4-AA 

Series record: AJ leads, 25-11

Last meeting: NC, 27-21, in 2014

Radio-Internet: Kool 102.7FM, www.kool1027.com and on the kool 102.7 FM mobile app, beginning with the pre-game show at 7 p.m.

The Skinny: North Central defensive coordinator David Moore was Andrew Jackson’s head coach from 2011 through the end of last season. Before taking the head coaching position at North Central seven seasons ago, Louis Clyburn was head coach at AJ for one season … The Knights have won each of the past two meetings in this rivalry. The Volunteers had won five straight until NC snapped that skid with a 20-19 victory in 2013 … Former USC football lineman C.J. Frye is in his first season as AJ’s head coach … The Volunteers opened the season with back-to-back games with still unbeaten Lancaster and McBee … Tonight is Homecoming at AJ. 

As the father of four pre-teen children, Louis Clyburn knows how difficult it can be when you change a child’s normal routine.

The same goes for high school football players said the North Central head coach whose team’s practice schedule was thrown out of whack with schools in Kershaw County being closed for the week in the aftermath of last weekend’s rain storm and the flooding which came with it.

After not having practice Monday, the Knights returned to work on Tuesday in preparation for tonight’s game at rival Andrew Jackson. Several players were unable to make the first practice of the week which was held at 3 p.m. as Clyburn and his staff tried to keep things as close as possible to a regular week of post-school practice.

“Anytime you get a child outside of their comfort zone, outside of their routine,” Clyburn said, “they’re cranky, they don’t sleep and they’re not their usual self. The longer you are in this business of coaching and teaching 14-, 15- and 16-year olds, there is not much difference.

“It’s been a struggle trying to get these young men into their regular routine. Not being in school, we could have practiced at an earlier time but we tried to put practice in the same time frame as we normally do when we have school.”

Clyburn said weeks such as this are those which he and his coaching staff would like to have had a veteran team. But the NC staff was more than happy with the approach and the attitude their younger players displayed in different circumstances.

“It’s not just hard on the players,” Clyburn said of this past week, “it’s even tough on the coaches. Our coaches have different routines; they’re having to take care of their own families, their own houses, their kids and their wives. But this is not unique to us, it’s going on all over the state.”

While many games throughout South Carolina have been moved to the weekend or, early next week, the Knights and Volunteers will play at their scheduled date and time. Schools in Lancaster County did not close this week as that region did not feel the harsh effects of the rain and wind. The same can be said for the Chesterfield County schools in Region 4-AA as all their teams will play tonight as scheduled.

“Those schools have been in their normal routine this week,” Clyburn said. “But by the end of the week, I felt good and have been really proud of our team for what we’ve accomplished and how much we were able to get done.

“Fortunately, we’re at the point of the season where we’re not changing a whole lot. We’re making adjustments every week but it will all come down to our going out there and executing. We’ll feel good this week if we can go out and do that.”

NC enters tonight’s contest following a 27-0 loss to Chesterfield last Thursday in a game in which the Knights were unable to get any traction on offense. The defense played well enough to win in a game in which the Rams led, 6-0, in the latter stages of the third quarter before scoring 21 points in the game’s final 14 minutes.

The visitors hope to have starting quarterback Bubba Williamson back after he left last week’s game with a third quarter injury. That led to tailback Cedric Cunningham being moved to quarterback since NC’s second option, starting wide out Delmarcus Wood, sat the game out with an injury. Even with the changes and the rain, the Knights did not turn the ball over.

“If we can continue to not turn the ball over, play well on defense and on special teams,” Clyburn said, “we will find a way to win.”

While the Knights were falling to 0-2 in conference action with the Chesterfield loss, Andrew Jackson stepped outside of league play and won for the second time in four weeks with a 16-14 victory over a solid Lamar team.

The Volunteers opened the season with a brutal first two games with Lancaster and McBee and were outscored by a combined 132-14 count in those two losses with McBee scoring 84 points in a 70-point MHS victory. Since then, Curtis Frye’s squad has righted the ship with wins over Great Falls and Lamar which sandwiched a four-point loss to 4-AA rival Buford and a 27-7 conference setback against Central.

Clyburn said after a rocky first two games, the Volunteers are on an upward trend.

“They’re absolutely one of the most improved teams in our region. As you watch them go through the season. They’re improving week-by-week,” he said. “Up front, their linemen do a good job of blocking and their defensive front does a good job of tackling at the line of scrimmage. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

The Volunteers went into Lamar last Thursday and upset the Silver Foxes by using a ball-control offense which kept the football out of the hands of the hosts. In the first quarter of that game, AJ went on an 18-play drive and used up nearly the entire 12-minute stanza on the 90-yard scoring march.

AJ will use as many as three different quarterbacks in the game in its run-first attack in which, at times, the Vols will line up with two tight ends and three running backs and play smash mouth football.

“They run the ball out of couple different sets and they run their quarterback a good bit of the time,” Clyburn said of the AJ offensive scheme. “They’re zone-reading and they will go into a spread set where they will run the quarterback up the middle. We do a lot of the same stuff in the run game so, hopefully, that gives us a little bit of an advantage in that our defensive players have seen this before.

 “It’s assignment football.”

Defensively, Clyburn said the hosts will line up in a 4-3 scheme with two safeties. “They are conservative in what they try to do on defense so they don’t have a lot of missed assignments,” he said.

Clyburn said the key for his offense will be yards after contact and breaking tackles. That was something which was emphasized throughout practice in Boonetown. “We have to be tougher runners with the football and get that extra yardage. That will be the difference in the ballgame.”

In a game between two similar teams both looking for that elusive first region win and being rivals, to boot, Clyburn said tonight’s game shapes up to be a good one.

“Anytime you get the chance to play in your backyard against your neighbor,” he said, “it should be one of those fun, fun football games.”