How long could tonight’s North Central at Indian Land football game last? To hear NC head coach Louis Clyburn tell it, fans could return to the cars with the engines still hot from the drive to the contest.
With two offenses which are not afraid to keep the ball on the ground and the clock moving, this could be a quickie in Lancaster County. But when a coach makes this kind of a statement, usually things go haywire.
"This game could end in an hour and 15 minutes," Clyburn said with a laugh in talking about tonight’s Region 4-AA pairing.
"They run the power-I with two backs and two tight ends. They run the ball and run the ball. They will throw the play-action pass. It’s not like the Wing-T or, anything. They just hike the ball and hand it off. They have two big backs and they are going to try to run some shifts, try to out-flank you and just hammer you."
While the host Warriors will go to the air as a last resort, North Central is not afraid to go up top with quarterback John Bowers. But the Knights’ bread and butter is a ground game which features the punishing style of senior tailback William Jenkins along with slashers Jay Parks and Cedrick Cunningham.
With the game on the line in last week’s 27-21 win over Andre Jackson, NC scored the winning touchdown in the game’s final four minutes by running the ball down the Volunteers’ throat.
Tonight’s contest could play a large role in deciding the possible playoff fates of the two teams. With wins over Buford and Andrew Jackson along with a loss to Chesterfield, the Knights will carry a 2-1 conference mark into tonight’s contest. IL is 1-2 in league play with a win over 10-7 win over Chesterfield paired alongside losses to conference kingpins Cheraw and Central, both of whom loom on NC’s slate.
"You try and look through our region and they are 1-2 in our region and they probably have played what is considered to be the tough row," Clyburn said. "We still have a little bit of the tough row to hoe with Cheraw and Central."
The one common 4-AA opponent each side has faced is Chesterfield. The Knights dropped a 62-20 decision to the Rams two weeks ago in an error-filled game played in the rain and mud. Watching the film of the Warriors’ win over Chesterfield showed Clyburn and company just how hard it can be if the Warriors get their ball-control offense clicking.
"They’re a big, tough and physical football team," Clyburn said after seeing the Warriors on film. "They have two backs who probably weigh over 210 pounds and they have a good offensive line in front of them. They do a good job of controlling the ball.
"We watched the film of their win over Chesterfield and we tried to simulate that game. The rain and turnovers, turnovers were our downfall against Chesterfield. For (IL), they did a great job of controlling the football. They just ran it and pounded it; I don’t know that they threw it twice in that ballgames. They just kept the ball out of Chesterfield’s hands which got Chesterfield and its air raid offense frustrated. You could see that on the game film."
As steady as the Warriors are on offense, Mike Mayer’s defense likes to gamble and will take their chances in trying to get the ball back for their offense. In many respects, Clyburn said, this is a bit like looking into the mirror as far as his team is concerned.
"They do a lot of blitzing. Honestly, we’re like a carbon copy of each other," said the NC boss. "They don’t have as much talent and size as Central and Cheraw on defense so, they try and make up for it by blitzing and stunting, just like we do."
Holding off the Indian Land defense will be the task for a patched-up Knights’ offensive line which is down four starters and/or key reserves due to injury. While that is bad enough, Clyburn and company have their fingers crossed as to ward off any more bad luck on that side of the ball.
"Having those three injuries on the line of scrimmage hurts, but if they go on much longer than this week, it could be catastrophic," Clyburn said of a young unit. "If two more kids should get hurt on Friday, it would be like "who’s that guy we have in there playing?"
Injuries and what the Warriors can and cannot do aside, Clyburn said that this game, like all others, will be decided by what the Knights can do on the field. He repeated the credo which he has carried since the start of this season in that his team needs to focus on itself more than the opposition.
"What we preach to our players and coaches and, it’s held true to a T over the past few years," Clyburn said, "is if we can control what we do execute our game plan, know what we’re supposed to do, not have turnovers and not get penalized, we can be on the field with anybody. That will hold true over this game and through the next three weeks."