A ball-hogging wishbone offense is best tempered by taking the football away from it.
Playing that scenario to the hilt, North Central forced and recovered five fumbles en route to a 28-0 win over East Clarendon last Friday night in Turbeville. The victory was the third in as many starts for the Knights who have a bye this week before returning home to take on Lewisville on Sept. 18.
On a humid evening when rain and lightning led to some games in the area to be halted and finished at a later date or, postponed altogether, the visiting Knights were themselves under the weather with starting quarterback Bubba Williamson and his co-hort under center, Delmarcus Wood, both playing through an illness which has spread through Louis Clyburn’s troops.
But there is nothing like a win to help cure those ills.
“We had a cold or a flu going though our team and that drains you. I didn’t know if we had anybody who was 100 percent,” Clyburn said in giving a brief medical update on his team. “We had to make sure that our kids were hydrated and that we had a good hydration plan in place for this.
“But I can’t be more pleased to be where we are right now.”
The NC defense took some of its frustrations from being sick and helped spread the feeling to the Wolverine offense which is built upon a running attack that is designed to eat up chunks of yardage as well as controlling the clock. Thanks to five turnovers, that game plan went out the window as the Knights’ defense made sure their offense received their fare share of playing time.
“That was huge, especially on a night where our defense played so well,” Clyburn said of the five turnovers. “When we needed to get a turnover, we were opportunistic and got one. Their offense is one where they want to grind, grind and grind it at you. It was a credit to our players for being in the right place at the right time and to our coaches who put our players in those positions to be successful.”
While getting the ball from EC was one objective, Clyburn said the Wolverines’ strength lies in a defense which has been rebuilt. The seventh-year NC head coach admitted that his offense was out of sync playing on a field which was wet from the humidity and made ball-handling of utmost importance.
“It never rained like we thought it might and we had a plan if it did rain,” Clyburn said of the field conditions which led to his team fumbling the ball on two occasions. “There was dew on the grass, though, and the ball stayed wet the entire night.”
The Knights opened slowly in getting the ball first only to have a missed assignment and a penalty hamper the drive. On the second drive, NC marched to the Wolverines’ two only to have a holding penalty and a quarterback sack set the ball at the 30.
“It was frustrating,” Clyburn said. “We were not in a rhythm on offense. We then had a miscue on pass protection which probably cost us a touchdown.”
Before the end of the first quarter, though, the Knights were able to put together a scoring drive which was capped by a six-yard run from junior Cedrick Cunningham, who posted his second straight 100-yard-plus rushing night. Cunningham’s six-yard run gave the guests a 6-0 lead.
An EC fumble in the second quarter led to another Knight score with Cunningham going in from 48 yards out on a touchdown run on which he get to the edge and went in untouched. Cunningham ran in the two-point conversion as the Knights held at 14-0 lead at halftime.
In Cunningham and DeAunte Samuel, the Knights have developed a two-headed monster in the backfield.
“Both those juniors are unselfish,” Clyburn said of the tandem. “They continue to split time in the backfield and Coach (Robbie) Cash is doing a great job as there are a number of plays that they are getting on offense while keeping them fresh to play on defense.”
Hoping to start putting the game away with a second half opening scoring drive, the Knights came up empty. That left a sour taste in Clyburn’s mouth.
“Our defense played a great first half. I don’ think they had positive yardage against us,” Clyburn said. “Our defense did a good job of playing assignment football and making plays which was encouraging to see.
“As for as our offense, with your first drive of the second half and the first drive of the game, you want to come away with points and we didn’t do that. We needed to finish. We need to have that killer instinct. We had running plays which went for 15 yards but if we finished our blocks those could have been 50-yard runs. We have to do a better job of finishing as we head into region play.”
After forcing an EC punt, Clyburn inserted Wood at quarterback and the senior directed a third quarter scoring drive which ended with Wood keeping on the read option and scoring from four yards out to make it 20-0.
For the second time in as many weeks, the NC special teams got in on the scoring act as EC attempted a long field goal in the fourth quarter. Clyburn sent DaShon Bethea into the end zone in case the kick came up short, which it did. Bethea picked the bouncing ball up on the second hop at his own 10 and broke to his left before cutting to his right and traveling 90 yards for the score. It was his second touchdown in as many weeks after having a pick six in a win over Timmonsville.
“People say that North Central has good speed,” Clyburn said. “DaShon Bethea is fast. He took the ball to the corner like he was shot out of a cannon.”
One positive sign which Clyburn and his staff saw after the game was that the NC players were not celebrating like a team which had won three games with a bye next up. Instead, they saw a team which was not satisfied.
“Obviously,” he said, “you have to be jacked up and excited about being 3-0. But every one of our kids felt that we could have played better. That is a good thing to see in a football team that they think they could have played better after a win. It was also nice for a coach to see. You talk about a culture change.
“That kind of attitude and coming off a win like this will make it easier on all of us going into the open week to work on the things that we need to work on for Lewisville and our region schedule.”