Nothing takes the wind out of team sails like ending a half like missing out on a scoring chance inside the opposition’s one yard line.
For the third time this season, North Central’s offense was rebuffed within three feet of the goal line. This time it was Central holding the Knights on downs in the waning moments of a first half which would end in a 6-6 tie.
The Eagles would then score 21 fourth quarter points to take a 27-6 victory over North Central, spoiling Senior Night in Boonetown while bringing the Knights’ 4-6 season to an end.
"It would have been nice to have had the lead at halftime," said NC head coach Louis Clyburn after the setback which gave his team a 2-4 mark in Region 4-AA and out of the state playoffs.
"At the beginning of the fourth quarter," he continued, "I thought we were going to win this thing. But Central is strong and fast. They have great team speed."
The visiting Eagles scored first in this one, using a 30-yard counter trap play for a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The Knights came back and took the ensuing kickoff and using the ground game mixed in with the passing of senior quarterback John Bowers, marched to the Central 16. After a 15-yard William Jenkins run to the one, Bowers did the honors from there as he took the first snap of the second quarter in for the tying score on the keeper to even things at 6-6.
"They loaded the box against us to take away the run. And they are fast enough to play you man-to-man in the secondary," Clyburn said of Central’s defensive scheme. "Our offensive coaches did a great job with our game plan of trying to get Jay Parks and Cedrick Cunningham to the edge with the football. I thought we executed our game plan well.
"We also put William Jenkins on the line of scrimmage as a flanker which helped us and we were able to hit him with a shovel pass out of that formation."
The Knights came up empty on two more trips to the red zone in the second quarter, including the aforementioned stop at the Central one. "That was the third time this year that we had a running back roll into the end zone, hand the football to the officials and they (the officials) don’t rule it a touchdown," Clyburn said.
Playing the second quarter in the rain and delaying the start of the second half due to lightning in the area, the third quarter turned into a battle for field position as the two defenses settled in just like the rain.
In the early minutes of the fourth quarter, Central faced a fourth and goal from the NC 10 and used a high-arching fade pass for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead after the two-point conversion. "The ball hung up there like a punt," Clyburn said of the pass to one of the Eagles’ 6-foot-4 tight ends.
With the score at 14-6 with
four minutes left, an NC fumble was recovered by an Eagle player for the scoop and score to make it 21-6. The Knights then came back and moved to the Central 25 but were unable to punch the ball into the end zone.
The Eagles then, while trying to run out the clock by running a series of dive plays, had a fullback break loose against the second team NC defense and score in the final minute to put the final margin at 21 points.
Clyburn said he was proud of his starting defensive unit which allowed just two touchdowns to the high-scoring Eagles.
"Our defense played hard and played well all game," he said. "That Central offense had rolled up a bunch of points against all the teams in our region
"Up front, we were outmatched by Central, both size- and strength-wise"
On defense, Clyburn said, Central had a pair of 6-foot-4 ends who took away the outside while bringing pressure all night. "They were able to take away a lot of the things we like to do on offense," he said.
After failing to make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, Clyburn said his team did not let the fact that their chances of advancing to the post-season were long before Friday night, affect the way they played in their season finale.
"Our young kids played hard and our seniors played hard, as well," he said. "Our kids were fired-up coming into this game. We were still right in this game with four minutes left but in the end, theirs were a little better than ours were."