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North Central ready to rebound tonight after suffering its first loss of the season
MARQUIS BARNES ... NC wide receiver

Buford at North Central

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

Records: BHS: 2-2; NC: 3-1

Series record: BHS leads, 17-14

Last meeting: NC, 26-7, in 2014

The Skinny: This will be the second time Buford has faced the Knights. Their first encounter ended with the Yellow Jackets topping NC, 7-6, in a mini-game as part of the Camden Shrine Club Jamboree at Zemp Stadium on Aug. 14 … Last year, NC snapped a nine-year losing skid against the Yellow Jackets while the victory was the first on the road for the Knights in some three seasons … The Knights have outscored their first four opponents by a combined 55-13 count in the opening half of games ... NC has 1,030 yards in offense thus far, divided evenly with 515 yards both passing and rushing.

This was something new for this edition of the North Central football team.

After opening their season with three consecutive victories, the Knights fell to visiting Lewisville, 12-8, last Friday night in a game in which the hosts were held to a season-low 149 yards in offense.

Tonight, NC kicks off Region 4-AA action with longtime rival Buford coming into Knights Stadium in Boonetown.  The build-up to this game was all about focusing on the present and not looking back to licks old wounds said NC head coach Louis Clyburn who said he took the loss as hard as the players but knew they had to forge ahead.

“It’s the 24-hour rule,” said the seventh-year NC boss, “you’re able to sulk, and that includes me, but come Monday, it’s time to put that thing behind you and move forward to the next ballgame.”

Clyburn said his team came back ready to work on Monday adding that the day’s practice was the most important of the week and would set the tone for the four days leading up to tonight’s tilt.

“At the beginning of the week, I told them we will dictate how well our season goes on Monday. Our most important practice of the season was going to be Monday and we had a great practice on Monday,” he said. 

“I was proud of them. It’s easy to come back to practice after a win. It’s hard to come back to practice after a loss, especially after you have had the taste of success in your mouth. I fully anticipate that this football team will react well to this adversity and will be ready to attack on Friday.”

Clyburn said he expected nothing less than maximum effort from his players who, he said, have improved in every phase of the game with each passing week. That, Clyburn pointed out, is the sign of a young squad beginning to mature and understand what is expected of them with each passing game and practice.

Last year, North Central traveled to Buford and returned home from northern Lancaster County with a 21-point win over the Yellow Jackets, who were at less than full-strength for that match-up with starting quarterback Scotti Moser sitting out the game due to an injury. With Moser on the sidelines, the Jackets went 2-8 in Tripp Watts’ first year at the helm.

Thanks to last week’s 24-20 victory over in-county rival Andrew Jackson, Buford sports a 2-2 record which includes a 42-0 shutout win over Great Falls in game two. The Jackets have a one-point, 39-38, loss to Indian Land in their opener.

“They are a much-improved football team,” Clyburn said. “They have had some success and their quarterback didn’t play in the game against us last year. He is a good, scrappy player. They present challenges for us.”

For years, playing Buford meant seeing the Wing-T offense which Ernie Hughes brought to the program in the 1990s and which continued to be favored by the coaches who followed him. That has changed under Watts who has opened things up.

“They have evolved a little bit offensively,” Clyburn said. “They used to be a Wing-T offense. Now, they go back and forth between a wishbone version of the Wing-T and the spread formation. When they get into the spread, they are not a big throwing offense; they are more of a zone read offense with a tough runner at quarterback.”

What continues to impress Clyburn is Buford’s toughness on both sides of the football but particularly on defense where the Jackets boats solid tacklers who are where they are supposed to be on almost every play. But like the BHS offense, its defense has evolved over the years. Clyburn expects Watts and company to take a page from the Lewisville playbook and try and slow down the NC offense and turn the game into a defensive struggle.

“Defensively, they used to be a 4-4, cover-three team that used to stunt with the inside backers. Now, they have gone to more man-to-man coverage and a bit more load the box and try to pressure you up front,” he said.

“Obviously, with the success that we allowed Lewisville to have against us in terms of being able to stop our offense with pressure, I fully anticipate Buford doing the same thing. We have slightly adjusted some of our plays to attack pressure defenses so we don’t expect that to be a huge problem. At the same time, it is something we have to prepare for.”

Clyburn also expects Buford to be riding a wave of confidence coming off the AJ win. And while the Knights are not a neighboring rival for the Jackets, these two teams have gotten to know each other extremely well over the past few years.

Before ending a scrimmage series with Buford, the Knights and Jackets met three times with a mini-game in the Camden Shrine club Jamboree coming in between the scrimmage and the regular season contest. “Looking back,” Clyburn said with a smile, “that was probably too much familiarity.”

The two sides played in Camden on Aug. 14 in a contest in which both sides dipped down onto their benches in making sure all players got on the field. That experience, Clyburn said, was just enough to give players and coaches from both sides an idea of what tonight may hold in store.

 “I think it is a positive,” Clyburn said of having met Buford in the Camden Shrine Club Jamboree a little more than a month ago. “It gives our kids a taste of what you are going to have in the ballgame. They’ve blocked and tackled these guys already. We had a lot of players playing in the jamboree, as did Buford. The coaches have a little bit of a feel for what the other coaches like to call and what they like to line up in.

“They did try to play man coverage against us and we were successful with the plays we had to attack the pressure defense. I don’t see too many negatives with it.”