CHESTERFIELD – While Chesterfield, as a whole, may not be a team which would pass many “eye tests,” the Rams are downright eye-popping in the skill positions.
Returning the game-opening kickoff, a punt and an interception for touchdowns, the hosts ended North Central’s season with a 49-18 win in a first round class AA Division II playoff contest on Friday.
The setback capped a 3-7 campaign for Louis Clyburn’s troops which were victimized by the big play from the get-go on a chilly night at the Battle Grounds in Chesterfield.
Ike Allred’s charges, which finished third in Region 4-AA and advanced to Friday’s second round pairing at Ninety-Six, had 253 yards on the aforementioned trio of returns. Thanks to those plays and quick-strike scores, the Rams ran just 39 offensive plays for 265 yards. Across the way, the Knights snapped the ball 57 times and picked up 238 yards with junior tailback William Jenkins going for 143 yards on 26 carries.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way on specials teams, that was, ultimately, our problem,” Clyburn said after meeting with his team for the final time. “We scored three touchdowns. We, basically, gave up three scores. I thought our defense played fairly well. (Chesterfield’s) first big (offensive) play didn’t happen until the (third) quarter.
“We put ourselves behind the 8-ball and it was hard to get in front of it.”
The Rams’ productive offense did not get rattling until after the break. By that time, the defense and special teams had started putting a tidy ribbon on this one as the hosts raced out to a 35-6 lead at intermission.
An omen of what would come the Knights’ way came when Warren Moseley’s line drive kick to open the game blasted off the hand of CHS up-man Cameron Boan at his own 40. The bouncing ball was gathered in by David Grant at the 32. The senior wide out than made a gathering of tacklers miss before setting sail in front of the NC bench en route to a 68-yard return for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead after the first of seven Michael Smith PAT kicks.
As if trailing just 16 seconds into the game was not bad enough, the Knights also saw the hosts recover the ensuing pooch kick at the NC 41. Playing on defense for the first time, NC got a three and out and then created a chance for its offense with a blocked punt which set the Knights up at the CHS 36.
Going for it on fourth and five from the 31, NC starting quarterback Hunter Wyant lofted a pass to wide out Mike Ostas, who dragged one foot inbounds in making the catch at the 14. And, just like that, the guests were knocking on the door only to have an illegal procedure call on fourth and six from the 10 set the ball back to the 15. Trying another pass on fourth down, this one went back the other way as Chesterfield cornerback Josh Rivers jumped the route and picked the aerial off at the five before returning it 95 yards for a 14-0 lead with 5:48 showing on the first quarter clock.
In a pre-determined move, the Knights inserted junior lefty John Bowers under center to give the Rams’ defense a different look.
Rather than try to get points in a hurry, the guests went with what has worked all year as Jenkins had his number called early and often. The junior went for seven yards on a third and five from his own 48 for a first down. Two snaps later, he ran over and through defenders for 32 yards to the CHS 13. Bowers was sacked for a loss of seven on third and eight from the 11 as Clyburn burned his second time out to set up a fourth down play.
After the break, Bowers zipped a strike to sophomore Jay Parks, who was untouched on a slant pattern pass which he turned into an 18-yard touchdown. The shovel pass from Wyant, on a fake PAT kick, was stopped as the Knights cut the lead to 14-6 with 2:15 left in the opening stanza.
After a strong start by Bowers, Clyburn decided to keep the southpaw at quarterback the rest of the way.
“Tonight, (Bowers) was going to go in, regardless, in the second series,” Clyburn said. “We were going to rotate (our quarterbacks) tonight. I challenged those two to help each other. Hunter was great about it on the sideline. When John came off the field, Hunter was there helping him and talking to him about what he was seeing.
“With what was going on tonight, I just felt that John gave us a pretty good chance to have success. And, he did.”
Needing an answer to NC’s score, the Rams did just that with a seven-play, 54-yard scoring march which included senior quarterback Dillon Rivers clicking on each of his four throws with the fourth of those being a nine-yard scoring strike to Chuck Jackson who toe-tapped his way inside the right sideline for a touchdown and a 21-6 lead with 11:16 left before halftime.
The 6-foot-2 Rivers clicked on 15 of his 18 passes for 175 yards. He completed his last eight attempts, including all seven in the second half.
Still within striking range, this game turned in CHS’ favor on the next series when NC was forced to punt on fourth and 10 from the Rams’ 44. Jenkins’ boot went to the speedy Jackson who picked up the kick at his own 10 and made a 90-yard bee line in front of the hosts’ bench. The third return for a score gave the Rams a commanding 28-6 lead with 8:38 left in the second quarter.
CHS tacked on another touchdown with Rivers found Jackson with a nine-yard rope, in a 53-yard drive set up by an NC fumble after Jackson’s 90-yard return. The fifth Rams’ touchdown, which came with 5:09 left in the first half, put the home side on top by four touchdowns as they carried a 35-6 bulge into intermission.
“Their offense is good, but I’m proud of the way our defense played,” Clyburn said. “Their skill guys are fast. That’s the thing, they have guys who are athletic and when we play an athletic team, we have to do some things and adjust.
“It’s not impossible (for us) to get more athletic, but you have to get more sound. It’s a little step here, a little step there and, all of a sudden, it’s a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown.
“On the kick return, we had six guys around him and had (Grant) hemmed up. Then, that cat makes a little ‘loop de dos’ and he’s off and running. Their athleticism got us. That was, ultimately, the difference. We won the line of scrimmage all night, but it was hard on the edges.”
The Knights threatened before the end of the first half, using the legs of Jenkins to churn up 30 yards on five carries as NC went from the CHS 49 to a first and goal at the seven with less than a minute left in the half. But three incompletions and an interception on fourth down squashed the threat.
NC was able to shrug off that near-miss by coming out in the second half and getting a 24-yard kickoff return by Reggie Outten to set the offense at the CHS 43.
Again, it was Jenkins doing the heavy lifting as on fourth and two from the 36, he went up the gut and into the end zone to close the gap to 35-12 with 10:01 left in the third quarter.
Chesterfield came right back and needed just four plays to travel 60 yards with the final 48 coming on a pretty Rivers-to-John Johnson pass as Johnson beat 1-on-1 coverage for the touchdown and a commanding 42-12 advantage with 8:28 to go in the third.
As if Jackson had not done enough damage already, he went into the end zone for the third time as he took a handoff on a trap play and sprinted home with a 38-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 49-12 at the 3:08 mark of the third quarter.
The Knights closed out the scoring in a rapidly played fourth quarter with a 51-yard Bowers to Parks throw and catch to the two setting up a one-yard Jenkins plunge to make it 49-18 with 9:14 left in the game and, for the Knights, the season.
Following the contest, Clyburn and his staff looked into the tear-stained eyes of many Knights. Clyburn thanked all the players for their hard work and effort before looking ahead to the future which begins with the start of off-season weight lifting on Tuesday.
As for the season past, the fifth-year Knight boss said he could not have been any prouder of his squad which included 22 seniors, of which more than a handful finished out four-year careers on this night.
“They really learned to focus on each individual play,” he said, “that’s really what I’m most proud of about those guys. They learned how to play the game of football, play-by-play. It really started clicking in that Andrew Jackson game (won by NC, 20-19.) That’s, really, the grit and determination of these seniors.”