Like the song says, sometimes “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
All week, the North Central football coaches told their defensive squad to prepare for an aerial onslaught from Andrew Jackson quarterback Kolby Whitley. Well, that was fine and dandy until the Volunteer senior left the game in the second half with an injury and was replaced by a player who took the guests in a different offensive direction.
The change in quarterback, however, did not result in a change in fortune for the Vols who fell to 0-7 on the year following a 27-21 loss to the host Knights in Boonetown on Friday.
The victory gave Louis Clyburn’s troops a 4-3 record and a 2-1 mark in Region 4-AA play. But it was hardly the one-sided affair which some may have thought this one might turn into. Clyburn, for one, expected nothing less from David Moore and company in this rivalry game. But with Whitley on the sidelines, NC’s original defensive script was better left for the receptacle bin.
“That Volunteers’ team we played was an interesting group,” Clyburn said after his team scored the winning touchdown in the final minute of play.
“When Whitley went down with his injury, they went from a passing team to a running team. Switching quarterbacks worked to their advantage because they moved the ball better on the ground with the other quarterback.
“Our kids had been told all week that we needed to do a good job defending the pass. They ended up running the ball after (Whitley’s) injury.”
The Knights carried a 21-14 lead into the half and led by that same score heading into the final quarter after a scoreless and punt-filled fourth quarter.
“We were conservative in the third quarter and AJ loaded up the box on us defensively,” Clyburn said before adding that, if he had to do it all over again, his team would probably go in a different offensive direction.
NC’s lone turnover of the night, which came on an errant snap inside its own 25 with less than five minutes remaining in the game, was turned into an AJ touchdown. The Vols used a double pass to grab a 21-20 lead following McKenzie Denkins’ PAT kick with some four minutes to play.
The Knights got the ball back and used a quick-hitter as quarterback John Bowers found Jay Parks with a short pass which Parks took to midfield. From there, it was all William Jenkins as the senior tailback carried the load before scoring from a yard out with a minute left to give NC the 27-21 advantage.
“I was proud of our kids and our coaches,” Clyburn said of the winning drive.
“We wanted to score with little time left. We milked the clock and we weren’t in a hurry. We just took our time and with our offensive line doing their job, we were able to hammer it in.”
The Vols had less than a minute to either tie up or, win the game. After an incompletion on first down, NC sophomore defensive back Cedrick Cunningham picked off a pass to seal the deal for the hosts.
Trying to get some confidence into Bowers, the Knights opened the game with a series of short pass plays to move the ball to the AJ 30. From there, Bowers hooked up with his senior classmate, wide receiver Hunter Wyant, on a 30-yard fade pass for the game’s first touchdown. Zack Jones then booted the PAT kick as the Knights jumped to a 7-0 lead.
AJ answered by driving the ball down the field with Whitley spotting Denkins with a 15-yard scoring strike. Denkins knocked in the kick and midway through the opening stanza, this game was knotted at 7-7.
After an exchange of punts, the Knights took over in their own territory before converting on a third and five with a Bowers-to-Parks screen pass at midfield. Jenkins did the rest, taking a handoff on the draw and sprinting home for a 50-yard touchdown run in the waning seconds of the opening stanza to give NC a 14-7 advantage.
The Vols, again, had a response for the NC score as another drive was capped by Whitley calling his own number and scoring from five yards out to even things at 14 midway in the second quarter.
AJ had the ball back following a punt only to have its ensuing series blown up when Parks stripped the ball loose from a Volunteer player. The ball went into the air and was grabbed by NC defensive end Quin Muldrow who took the loose ball and sprinted 21 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead score as the Knights were able to carry a 21-14 lead into the locker room at the break.
“We had opportunities to put the game away in the third quarter,” Clyburn said, “but we didn’t take advantage of them.”
The Knights received 120 yards on the ground on 22 carries from Jenkins. In the air, Bowers clicked on 10 of his 12 attempts for 150 yards with Parks on the receiving end of four of those throws for 100 yards.
Clyburn, who served as AJ’s head coach in 2008 before coming to North Central the following year, said he never felt that the Volunteers looked like a winless team coming into this game. And, the guests did not play like one, either.
“Give plenty of credit to Andrew Jackson,” Clyburn said. “They are not an 0-7 team by any stretch. It’s not like, all of a sudden, AJ does not have any good football players. They have tough, quality kids over there and they played a good game against us.”
With a 2-1 conference mark, the Knights stayed in the hunt for the Region 4-AA title. Cheraw, by defeating Central on Friday, leads the circuit at 3-0 followed by North Central and Central at 2-1. Chesterfield stands at 2-2 after a close call in a win over Buford on Friday.
“Things are tight in our conference. It’s a balanced region,” Clyburn said. “We still have a shot at this thing (the region title.) We just have to pull up our boot straps, work hard and see what happens.
We have another big week this week with a game at Indian Land. But in this region and with our team, every week is a big week.”