East Clarendon at North Central
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Records: EC: 1-0; NC: 0-2
Series record: First meeting
The Skinny: After having rushed for better than 1,500 yards last season, North Central senior tailback William Jenkins has been “held” to 130 yards and no touchdowns in the Knights’ first two games against C.A. Johnson and Timmonsville … The Knights have been outscored, 50-40, in their first two setbacks. A big reason in that the opposition has outscored them by a combined 30-7 count in the first and third quarters … The visiting Wolverines return nine starters on each side of the football from last season’s 4-6 squad. Included in that group is class A All-State selection Marquice Elmore, who caught 40 passes for 493 yards and six touchdowns in 2013.
With Region 4-AA being a seven-team circuit, it means that each team will play six conference games. With that being the case, it leaves teams just four --- rather than the regular five --- out-of-league contests.
After having opened the season with back-to-back tough losses, North Central has just two more chances to carry a break-even record into its Sept. 26 4-AA opener at Buford which comes after a bye week. The first of those two opportunities to get off the schneid and move in the positive direction comes tonight when East Clarendon comes to Boonetown in the first meeting between the two programs on the gridiron.
Knights’ head coach Louis Clyburn did not call this a “must win” game, but he was clear that for his team to carry momentum into region play, things need to turn around ... beginning tonight.
“We want to get a win this Friday then, our goal will become to get that second win (over Camden Military Academy next week),” Clyburn said. “We say, at the beginning of every season, that if we can come out of non-conference season with an even or, winning record, you’re setting yourself up pretty well to have a winning season.
“These next two opponents are going to be tough and they both present certain challenges. I just hope that our team can continue on the path of improvement and that we can come away with a victory this Friday night.”
The Knights come into tonight’s pairing after starting the season with a pair of single-digit losses to C.A. Johnson and Timmonsville. The latter of the pair came a week ago on the road in a contest in which NC did not commit a turnover while blocking and recovering a Whirlwind punt in the end zone for a touchdown.
“When you can play a team and not turn the ball over, block a punt for a touchdown and not win the game, you know you are playing against a good team,” Clyburn of last week’s 36-28 setback. “That was the gauge that we looked at in looking back on the Timmonsville game.”
Not only did NC come out of the Pee Dee with a loss, but it also suffered injuries to its left side of the offensive line as Kirk Hudson (heat-related problems) and Johnathan Shelly (right ankle) both missed a good portion of the contest after suffering their ailments. Add to that the fact that starting center Chance Grein will not be back from suffering a game one concussion and the Knights have been busy patching up their offensive interior.
“The offensive line is a place where we knew we were going to have to develop some depth quickly in replacing those guys from last year,” Clyburn said of that unit.
“We’re moving guys around and we have guys stepping up. We have to do a good job in making sure our second team guys are as prepared as the first.
“There, certainly, wasn’t a lack of effort or, ‘want to’ in the ballgame last week. I think people who were at that game last week are seeing a different brand of North Central football which we’re very proud of; we’re aggressive and we’re attacking. These kids are certainly far from folding their tents at any time in the ballgame.”
The Knights, Clyburn said, had a good Monday practice which they hope will lead to a successful Friday night. “It was a very physical practice. It was hot and we pushed our kids to fight through and to get that bad taste out of their mouth and they responded well,” he said.
If the hosts are to turn things around, they need to come up with big plays in all three facets of the game, but none more than on offense. In two games, NC has rushed for 234 yards with another 76 in the air. Clyburn said he and his staff are waiting for things to come together on that side of the football.
“We need guys to step up and make big plays whether it’s on offense or defense,” he said of the lack of game-changing plays.
“We’re not seeing what we need to see from our running game. We’re getting the five-, six- to 10-yard runs, but our backs are good enough and we need to block well enough for them to get into the secondary and get some of those 20- to 30-yard runs. That’s what it’s going to take for us to get over that hump offensively and for us to see one of those 300-yard offensive days which will lead to success in the win column.”
If the Knights are to get things into gear tonight, they will have to do it against an East Clarendon squad which opened its season with a 30-12 win over Green Sea-Floyds in a game in which the Wolverines pulled away in the latter stages of the contest.
Coach Dwayne Howell’s squad has weapons on the offense in senior quarterback Jared Hair who has 1,000-yard rusher Adam Lowder at tailback while Marquice Elmore is a big-play receiver and is a threat any time he touches the ball.
“They are definitely not short of having good football players,” Clyburn said of the visitors. “Their quarterback does a good job of operating their offense and Elmore is a good player. We told our kids he is a guy who they are going to throw to when they throw the ball. We have to defend him because he is capable of making a big play.”
“We know that we are going to have to play as close to mistake-free football as we can and, we have to continue to improve on doing what we do and making big plays. We’re going to have a team that matches up well with us. We’re going to have to play hard and I hope that we’re hungry for that taste of victory.”