Sometimes, you just tip your hat, give credit where it is due and live to fight another day.
North Central head coach Louis Clyburn went that route following his team’s 49-12 loss to visiting Cheraw Friday night in Boonetown.
There was no way to gloss this one and no excuses were to be heard. Instead, he praised the Braves who improved to 5-0 in Region 4-AA play while clinching a second consecutive conference crown.
"Cheraw is pretty good," he said. "We could not match Cheraw’s strength and speed up front. They have big, physical and strong kids, who are mostly seniors.
"They have a shot (to win the state title.) They really do."
The loss dropped the Knights to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in 4-AA play heading into Friday’s regular season finale against visiting Central, which has one conference loss. An NC win this week would all but solidify a playoff slot. But, as Clyburn said, the crazy circuit was thrown for another loop when Buford knocked off Indian Land on Friday.
The league’s athletic directors and football coaches will meet Wednesday to discuss the tie-breaking methods.
"The worst we could finish in the region is fifth," Clyburn said. "But that doesn’t get you in (the playoffs) in a four-team region. We could have three teams tied for third place after next Friday. And that would mean that one of the three would end up staying home."
The Braves took the lead for keeps in this one by scoring on the evening’s opening drive with Stephon Harrington going in for the touchdown from 50 yards out, on a counter, and a quick 7-0 lead.
With Cheraw being tough to run against, the Knights were forced to open their playbook. "Their defense is pretty stout against the run and we knew that we were going to have to throw it around, which we did," Clyburn said. "To a degree, we executed the game plan, but we stubbed our toe a couple times."
One of those times came on the hosts’ second possession when CHS outside linebacker Josh Burkett plucked a tipped ball from the sky at the NC 35 and scored on the pick six to put the Braves on to, 14-0.
The Knights followed by marching into the Cheraw red zone only to have another interception stall the drive. The Braves’ offense would drive the length of the field and suddenly, the NC deficit was 21 points following the first of three Tristen Campbell scoring tosses.
"They big-played us," Clyburn said of Cheraw’s first three scores.
Trying to get something going, the Knights used the throwback pass on the ensuing kickoff return but a stray throw to an open receiver across the field went out of bounds. The Knights moved to the Cheraw 23 and on fourth down from there, John Bowers was called on to attempt a 40-yard field goal.
While the distance was out of Bowers’ range, Clyburn had other plans as holder Hunter Wyant took the snap from center and with the Knights flooding one side of the field, he went the other way and, under duress, found Bowers at the one yard line. Two plays later, William Jenkins went in for the score to cut the lead to 21-6.
"It’s always good to put a fake in there and we’ve been practicing it for six weeks," Clyburn said of the decision to try the fake field goal.
The Braves responded by putting together a scoring drive with Harrington going in for 20 yards out to up the score to 28-6 at halftime.
Cheraw tacked on a fifth touchdown by opening the second half with a a score.
After an exchange of punts, NC drove down the field with Jenkins doing the honors from six yards away with his second scoring run to make it 35-12 late in the third quarter.
The guests came right back with a touchdown to open the fourth quarter scoring as the score ballooned to 42-12.
Another CHS interception led to the game’s final touchdown as both teams had their backups in the contest.
Freshman Bubba Williamson finished the game at quarterback for the Knights and he experienced some success against a strong defense.
"I wanted him to go in there, throw it and see some fast people," Clyburn said of Williamson’s late-game performance. "We wanted him to get some quality reps. I didn’t want him to go in there and just hand the ball off. He got a chance to do that in the fourth quarter."
Clyburn said it was not so much what the Knights did not do right on Friday as much as it was that his team ran up against a better opponent.
"They’re a good team," he said. "It was the first game where, man-to-man, theirs were just big, stronger and faster than ours. We had to be more aggressive with our game plan and, we were. They made plays.
"My hat goes off to them. I credit them and, I hope they go on and win the state championship. And, they’ve got a shot."