North Central at Chesterfield
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Records: NC: 3-2, 1-0 in Region 4-AA; CHS: 3-3, 0-2 in Region 4-AA
Series record: CHS leads, 14-13
Last meeting: CHS, 19-18, in 2013
The Skinny: Tonight’s game is a rematch of last year’s AA state playoff opener won by Chesterfield on its home field … After having lost head coach Ike Allred to James Island in the off-season, Chesterfield hired Chris Arnoult, the school’s second head coach in three years … In five games, the Knights have outscored the opposition by a combined 114-77 count. But the third quarter has been a problem with NC having scored just six points to the opponents’ 14 ... Senior Jay Parks leads NC in catches (22), receiving yards (319), touchdown catches (four) and tackles (24) .
If you’re going: From SC 341/Bethune Rd., turn left onto US Highway 1 North/King St. East and travel 8.7 miles. You will turn left onto SC-145 North. Travel 20.4 miles on SC-145 and Chesterfield High School will be on the left.
One of the things which North Central head coach Louis Clyburn was excited about when the High School League moved the Knights into Region 4-AA was an improved football atmosphere on Friday nights.
After having played in front of far more empty bleachers than fans in Columbia-centric Region 3-AA, the move back north was one which will see NC football teams play in front of larger, more enthusiastic crowds. One such stop is Chesterfield, a site which the Knights and their fans know all-too-well from past games with the host Rams at the Battle Grounds.
It was in last November’s AA first round playoff game that Chesterfield big-played the Knights in a 49-18 win over the guests on a bitter cold evening. While the temperature should be much warmer for tonight’s game between the two rivals, Clyburn expects his team to get a chilly reception from what should be a large Chesterfield crowd.
“This conference is tough … it’s a tough football conference,” Clyburn said of Region 4-AA. “What’s neat about it is every Friday night is special.
“We’re going to Chesterfield and it is going to be a tough challenge to come away from their place with a victory. It’s a tough place to play, but it’s fun. It’s what high school football is all about. Those football games in Chesterfield are important to their people. It will be exciting and will be a huge challenge for our kids.”
In last season’s finale for NC, the Knights gave up a game-opening kickoff return, a punt return and an interception return for touchdowns. Those returns whipped the already energized CHS crowd into a frenzy.
While playing a mistake-free game is the Knights’ ultimate goal this evening, Clyburn said the best way to help keep the Ram faithful quiet would be to control the football. A week ago, in a 26-7 win at Buford in the 4-AA opener, NC cashed in on four of its six offensive series, punting once and running the game clock out in the other two. The Knights’ defense had plenty of time to rest in the second half as the host Yellow Jackets only had eight snaps in the final 24 minutes.
A repeat of that performance would be nice, but the challenge this week should be stiffer.
“Offensively, like we were last week,” he said, “we have to be very efficient and we need to limit their offensive opportunities. If you can do that, you can control the game regardless of who you’re playing. That’s what we’ve focused on this week.”
As is the case every week, Clyburn said offensive efficiency and ball security were stressed during the week of practice. Another key to how well the Knights move up and down the field is making sure the ball is distributed to their playmakers. Clyburn and his offensive staff make sure to spread the wealth and give the opposing defense a different player whom they need to be concerned about during the course of the night.
“It ends up correlating to touches,” he said of the offensive philosophy. “We talk about our offense and having different weapons. But it comes down to Jay Parks getting a certain amount of touches. Josh Flores needs touches. Cedrick Cunningham needs touches. William Jenkins needs touches. John Bowers needs touches and Hunter Wyant needs some touches.
“If you can do that in your game plan and if you have confidence in every one of those offensive weapons, then you are really becoming an efficient offense and, you are making it really difficult for the defense to defend you.”
While making sure all cylinders are working on the offensive side, Clyburn said the other two areas of the game have not been skipped over. After the problems the Rams gave NC on special teams last season, that area has had more than just a few minutes of attention paid to it over the course of this week.
Defensively, NC allowed 28 non-return points to Chesterfield 11 months ago. That side of the football must be on top of its collective game this time around.
“We’ve focused on the kicking game and making sure our defensive game plan is tight and at the same time multiple,” Clyburn said. “When I say that, I mean that we go into every game with two or three things that we can do that keeps the opponent guessing. That is the thing that our defensive coaches have done well; it’s simple for our kids but if you are on the other side looking at it, you have two or three that we’re doing that make it different for you. That makes it hard on a play-caller.”
Plenty has changed at Chesterfield starting at the top with Chris Arnoult taking over the head coaching post after Ike Allred accepted the coaching position at James Island. Gone, too, are several of the Rams’ talented skill position players. Clyburn, however, is not about to feel sorry for the hosts who have lost two straight, to 4-AA foes Central and Indian Land.
“They have athletes; they always have since I’ve been here,” he said. “They have, kind of, kept the same game plan. I know Coach Arnoult came from Irmo where they were probably more like us, in the I formation. But they are in the shotgun a bunch and in the spread formation. Defensively, those are the challenges we are going to face. It’s going to be a little bit different than the ball-control that we saw against Buford.”
The other challenge for the Knights will be to collect a second conference road win in as many weeks, something which Clyburn said his team can accomplish.
“If we can do what we do well and handle those expectations which we have put on our team, in terms of special teams, defense and offense,” he said, “it will all make the environment that much more special, if you can execute and be successful.”