There are those victories which you take, put them in the books and move ahead to the next chapter.
Then, there are the ones you savor. You can chalk North Central’s 26-7 thumping of Buford in the latter category.
It had been nine years since the Knights defeated Buford. It had been three years since NC won a road game and it had been since 2012 that Louis Clyburn’s squad had won a conference game. Now, you understand why the North Central head coach had more than a little spring in his step following Friday night’s road win over the Yellow Jackets in the Region 4-AA opener for both teams.
“It’s huge,” he said of the 19-point victory and his first victory as a coach over a Buford team, which includes his one year at Andrew Jackson. “It’s always tough to win on the road, whether it’s in the SEC or, Region 4-AA.”
The victory was the third straight for the Knights who will get back on the bus and head to Chesterfield on Friday night in looking to extend both their regular season and conference win streaks.
The Knights were dominant on this night in Lancaster County as they outgained the hosts, 335 to 119, in total yardage. NC outdid the hosts on the ground, 119 to 81 yards. The guests also played a game of keep-away from the Jackets as they held onto the football for big chunks of time which was a double-edged sword for first-year Buford head coach Tripp Watts and his squad.
“Going into this game,” Clyburn said, “we had two goals. We wanted to rush for 200 yards and, we wanted to hold onto the football. If we possess the ball on offense, if keeps our defense fresh and makes our defense that much better.”
Buford had the same plan of attack and after a first quarter in which both sides had one extended possession and, NC logged its lone punt of a six-possession night, neither side had dented the scoreboard. That all changed in the second 12 minutes of play.
Taking over from their own 40 following the Jackets’ second punt of the night, the Knights loosened a Buford defense which was designed to slow down the NC ground game by hitting the Jackets with a series of screen passes from senior quarterback John Bowers.
“Our coaching staff did a great job of formationing Buford,” Clyburn said of spreading the Yellow Jacket defense across the field to help open running and passing lanes.
The 60-yard march was capped by Bowers calling his own number and scoring on a two-yard run to give the visitors a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
In no hurry, Buford continued to eat the clock on the ensuing series and found its way into the end zone when Evan Flynn hooked up with Mason Smith on a 15-yard scoring pass. The extra point gave the Jackets a 7-6 advantage with some 45 seconds left before intermission.
With his team set to accept the second half kickoff, Clyburn said he needed to make a decision as to whether to run the clock out in two plays or, try and find a way into the end zone before halftime. The choice was made easy for him by his team.
“As a coach,” Clyburn said, “I debated about whether we should run two plays and take it to the house (locker room) and get ready for the second half. But our kids were fired up and wanted to try and score.”
Setting up shop from their own 30, the Knights received a boost when Bowers found Josh Flores with a 16-yard pass on first down. “That pass really woke our team up,” Clyburn said.
Next came a William Jenkins run for a first down as the Knights burned their final time out. After Bowers found Parks on a curl pattern in the middle of the field, Bowers hurriedly got his offense to the line and stopped the clock with a pair of throws into the dirt, leaving two seconds on the first half clock and 29 yards to the end zone.
Rather than try to put four wide outs on one side of the field, Clyburn went with two wide receivers --- Hunter Wyant and Jay Parks --- and rolled the dice.
“We changed our personnel from four wide receivers to two wide outs because we knew they would give us man coverage with two receivers. We did not want them to go into a prevent defense with four wide receivers,” Clyburn said.
With Wyant and Parks running a “fork” pattern, Parks was allowed to have single coverage. Bowers fielded what was a low snap from center and was given solid protection by his line before the left-hander found Parks in the end zone with a pass which came after the halftime horn sounded. Jenkins ran in the two-point conversion which put the guests on top for keeps at 14-7 as the Knights headed into the locker room.
“I was just so proud of our guys,” Clyburn said. “We practice and practice that two-minute drill and it was probably the most perfectly executed two-minute drill that I’ve ever seen.
“John Bowers is becoming a very good game manager for us and did a great job leading the drill and making good decisions with the football.”
On a night of breaking down barriers, the Knights took care of another one as they took the second half kickoff and marched the ball down the field, using a 15-yard Jay Parks run to cap the 70-yard scoring march, which took up more than eight minutes to complete, as the guests went on top, 20-7. Included in the series was a pair of fourth down conversions.
“We challenged our kids at halftime to score in the third quarter, which is something we have not done all season,” Clyburn said.
The NC defense answered the call and got the Jackets to go three and out and give the ball back to their offense which drove down the field with Jenkins going in from five yards out for the final touchdown and a 26-7 lead.
“Our defense played lights out,” Clyburn said. “Buford has a good offense and averages about 30 points a game and scored 43 against Andrew Jackson the week before.”
Clyburn said much of the credit for his team’s defensive effort can be attributed to the work of his assistant coaches on that side of the football.
“One thing which I was impressed with,” Clyburn said, “was the job that our defensive coaching staff did with our kids. They stressed fundamentals all week and during the bye week, which helped us. They did a great job of having our kids prepared for all the adjustments we had to make for all the different formations that Buford gives you.
“Our coaches stayed with our base defense. We got off blocks and made tackles all night.”
The NC defense came up with an interception when Cedrick Cunningham picked off a Yellow Jacket aerial on the second play from scrimmage after Jenkins’ touchdown. NC then ate up the final six-plus minutes of the game clock, finishing the contest with the ball on the Buford one.
While not wanting to run the score up and taking a knee on the final play, Clyburn said when the Knights get in that position again, following a turnover, they need to be able to cash in and get points out of it.
“We have to be able to finish,” he said. “(This) week, we got to play an explosive Chesterfield team and we need to be able to get points when we get a chance after a turnover.”
Starting nine sophomores while having to change his team’s offensive line on the fly after a rash of early season injuries there, Clyburn said he was happy with a 3-2 start to the season and a 1-0 mark to open league play. What he and the Knights are not feeling, he said, is satisfied.
“The main thing for us is that we are making improvement,” Clyburn said. “That’s what you want to see when you have a young team; you don’t want to take any steps back. We’re going at it and working hard and our kids are starting to see some success. At the same time, though, we are taking it one game at a time which we better do because our region is so tough.”
Knight Lights: Jenkins led the NC ground game as he ran for 139 yards on 24 carries. Cunningham was next with 47 yards on a dozen rushes … Bowers completed nine of his 11 pass attempts for 136 yards and a pair of scores while not throwing an interception … Parks was on the receiving end of seven Bowers aerials which he turned into 112 receiving yards … Sophomore linebacker Zack Jones had seven tackles --- five solo --- to tie Parks with team honors in that category … NC won the turnover battle by picking off a pair of passes, courtesy of one each from sophomores Cunningham and Da’Shon Bethea, to offset the Knights’ one lost fumble.