It is a situation which Louis Clyburn or any North Central head football coach since Carl Startsman, for that matter, has not had to deal with since 1993. And, that is not a bad thing.
For the first time since the Startsman-led Knights opened that season with a 9-0 start, the program has won its first two games. North Central made sure of that by scoring the game’s first 27 points en route to a 42-22 victory over visiting Timmonsville on Friday night in Boonetown.
While this is, obviously, the first time any of his players has experienced opening a season with back-to-back wins, Clyburn said the task facing he and his staff is making sure the Knights keep their heads on straight. In the same breath, though, the seventh-year NC boss said having a win streak is a good thing.
“You can’t buy that kind of confidence when you have as young of a football team as we have this year,” he said after dropping the Whirlwinds to 0-2 on the young season. “But we can’t be too comfortable in our own skin. We can’t think that this is going to happen all the time unless we keep working in practice.”
While the end result was what the Knights were hoping for, the way it came did not come without a hiccup here and there. After having gone the entire scrimmage season, through the Camden Shrine Club Jamboree and a week zero victory over C.A. Johnson without turning the ball over, NC coughed up the ball on consecutive snaps on Friday. The first turnover was an interception with a fumble following.
The Knights more than made up for their own miscues by picking off four THS passes including one by DaShon Bethea which went for the team’s second pick six in as many weeks. Cedrick Cunningham, who used Friday’s contest as his breakout game, had a pair of interceptions while Marquis Barnes added another to the mix.
It was the NC defense which set the tone for the night early on as they got the Whirlwinds to go three and out in the game’s first series. The NC offense took over for the first time at the THS 47 and the hosts rode the right arm of sophomore quarterback Bubba Williamson who found Cunningham with a 16-yard bubble screen on the first play before spotting Josh Flores across the middle for a gain of 25 yards.
DeAunte Samuel capped the march by going in from the two for the 6-0 lead. Backup kicker Jeremiah Jenkins tacked on the PAT kick as the hosts were off and running with a quick 7-0 lead.
The Whirlwinds came right back, returning the ensuing kickoff to the NC 24 before the Knight defense came up big again and forcing an incompletion on fourth down to take over the their own 17.
“Our defense’s bend but don’t break mentality showed, again,” Clyburn said. “Our guys really ‘manned up’ on that series.”
Following an exchange of punts, NC’s third drive took up just two snaps as on second down from the THS 48, Samuel struck again. This time the junior running back took a handoff from Williamson on the draw and bolted 48 yards into the end zone for the score. The Whirlwinds blocked the PAT kick but NC still had a 13-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The consecutive NC turnovers kept its defense on the field but the Knight defenders kept the shutout intact and gave the ball back to the offense at the THS 38. After opening the series with a 25-yard Williamson to Delmarcus Wood pass, Cunningham sprinted into the end zone from 13 yards away. The pass play for the two-point conversion failed but NC’s lead had gone up to 19-0 midway in the second quarter.
Having scored on offense and defense already this season, it was time for the NC special teams to chip in with the scoring chores.
A blocked punt by the Knights was recovered by defensive end Quin Muldrow who got the scoop and score. Cunningham, who rushed for better than 100 yards on the night, added the two-point conversion run as the Knights carried a 27-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Holding a big lead, Clyburn warned his team at halftime that with as many good athletes as THS had and being coached by Bill Tate, this game was not in the bag, yet. The Knights would not try and just sit on their large lead.
“We had the lead,” Clyburn said, “but we wanted to keep doing what we did in the first half in the second half. We wanted to run the ball, move the ball while keeping the clock running. Against C.A. Johnson, we just wanted to run out the clock at the end of the game. We were trying to score when we had the ball this week.”
NC was its own worst enemy as holding penalties bogged down its third quarter drives, including one which went for 10 plays but did not result in points.
“Timmonsville has a pretty good defensive front,” Clyburn said. “But we hurt ourselves with holding penalties by our receivers and our offensive line. We have to clean those up because they kept us from building to our lead. Those were my fault.”
The Whirlwinds chipped away by scoring on a pass and getting the two-point conversion to close the gap to 27-8 heading into a wild fourth quarter. A second scoring pass brought the guests to within 27-14 early in the final stanza.
“Timmonsville is a very well-coached football team,” Clyburn said. “We knew they weren’t going to just lie down and quit. We cautioned our team about that because they have good athletes.”
It took a Cunningham interception on the next THS series to stunt the guests’ momentum as the Knights took over from their own 43 after the junior’s 30-yard return of the interception.
Cunningham then got the call on seven straight plays and went in from 20 yards out on the seventh run to give the Knights the 35-14 lead after Jamel Jones caught the two-point pass from Williamson.
“We challenged our offensive line before that drive,” Clyburn said. “We told everybody to settle down because we were still in control of the ballgame. We said to them that, ‘We have to go out there and take control of this thing.’
“For a young football team, they showed a lot of maturity on that drive.”
Needing to put this one away, the NC defense rose to the occasion on the next series with Bethea picking off a THS pass and returning it for a touchdown. Jenkins then booted home the PAT for the 42-14 lead.
Timmonsville closed the scoring by adding a final touchdown in the waning moments of the game while facing the Knights’ backup players. “Our young guys played tough against their ones,” Clyburn said of his second string defensive unit. “We are going to need a lot of our backup players to step up for us because we’re starting to get a little nicked up.”
While Williamson went the distance under center for the Knights, his head coach said that backup quarterback Delmarcus Wood needs and deserves to get some snaps at quarterback to go along with his other duties.
“Delmarcus deserves to get his reps and snaps at quarterback,” Clyburn said. “But he does such a good job for us at linebacker, at wide receiver and on special teams that we have to make sure to keep him healthy. But, then again, he also does such a good job for us when we put him in at quarterback.”
Clyburn said his team needs to keep doing what they have been doing in order to stay successful. He said it all comes down to finding the right pieces to put into the puzzle.
“These kids and our coaches have put in a heck of a lot of hard work and that must continue for us to be successful,” he said. “Our motto is that you win games on Friday night by doing what you’re supposed to do and working hard on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We just have to put our hard hats back on and bring our lunch pails with us when we return to the practice field on Monday.”