Trailing a high-scoring Chesterfield squad, 6-0, at halftime, North Central saw its best-laid plans washed away not by Thursday evening’s rains as much as it was by an injury to starting quarterback Bubba Williamson.
With the sophomore out and back-up quarterback/wide receiver Delmarcus Wood sitting out the game with an injury, the host Knights went with emergency quarterback and starting tailback and safety Cedrick Cunningham. The result was a 27-0 win for the Rams, who improved to 3-0 in Region 4-AA play, over North Central, which fell to 3-3 overall and 0-2 in 4-AA play.
The shutout came thanks to a suffocating Ram defense which held the hosts to 11 yards in total offense on 44 snaps.
With his team’s walking wounded already piling up prior to Thursday’s contest, NC head coach Louis Clyburn said the last thing the Knights could afford was an injury to Williamson.
“When Bubba went down (with a stinger),” Clyburn said, “Cedrick (Cunningham) was standing next to me on the bench. He looked at me and said, ‘I guess that I’m in, huh?’”
As frustrating as the injury to Williamson was, it was made even worse as it came just as the Knights thought they had something for the CHS defense.
“Coming out after halftime,” Clyburn said, “I thought we had made some adjustments where we could attack their defense in key spots. When Cedrick came in at quarterback, our offense had to change gears. They knew Delmarcus was hurt and that our passing game would be challenged so it made it easier on their defense.”
NC, which only had three second half possessions, also lost the field position battle with Williamson, who doubles as the team’s punter, out of the game.
The Rams scored the only points they would need with a second quarter touchdown. The Knights’ Damion Hayes would block the PAT kick to keep the score at 6-0 through intermission. But with Williamson going to the sidelines with an injury to join 6-4, 300-pound starting right guard John Shelley, who was replaced by freshman Tyreek Jenkins, the hosts became younger and smaller.
“We had a next man up mentality. And it’s not that the guys we are putting out there are not talented but they are just not as experienced as the players who are injured,” Clyburn said. “At one time, I looked on the field and our offense had three freshmen, three sophomores and five juniors out there.
“We are experiencing some growing pains, right now. We’re fighting hard but these injuries are making things difficult.”
Also providing a road block on this night was the Rams’ defense which dared NC to throw the ball when it moved junior Dre Lindsey inside the box to linebacker. Clyburn said Lindsey may well be the best defensive player in the conference.
“Chesterfield’s defense, especially its run defense,” he said, “has gotten tremendously better from last year when they were susceptible to the run. At times, though, our offense was clicking.”
The NC defensive game plan worked as changing fronts and switching up the looks from man-to-man to zone in the secondary kept CHS sophomore quarterback Savion Watson guessing. “Our defense played extremely well,” Clyburn said. “We were able to take away their short passing game which Chesterfield hangs their hat on.”
The Knights were still in this one until the Rams scored on a 20-yard pass on fourth down to carry a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Chesterfield received additional breathing room with a score early in the fourth quarter before tacking on a late-game touchdown while trying to run out the clock.
The speed of the Rams’ defense limited NC to not having a play longer than a 13-yard Cunningham run. There was also a 10-yard Williamson to Josh Flores pass which, Clyburn said, could have gone for big yardage had his other receivers held their ground on blocks.
“One thing that we have to get better at is breaking tackles,” Clyburn said. “We also have to get better at blocking at the second level. Our receivers have to do a better job turning plays like Josh’s catch into bigger plays. If we could have made one block at the second level on his catch, it could have gone for about 30 yards.”
Clyburn said his team was “so close” to making a play which could have changed the outcome of the contest. A tipped screen pass, he said, prevented a big play. And missed tackles allowed the Rams to keep the football and the momentum. On the other side of the coin, the seventh-year NC boss said his special teams played better on Thursday than those units had in recent contests.
Last Thursday’s game was one which was moved up a night due to the impending storm which hit the area. That took a day’s worth of practice from NC. And with no practice being held on Monday due to school not being in session and the status of today being in question, Clyburn and company will have another short week to prepare for Friday’s short trip to Andrew Jackson.
NC did not have a practice last Friday and will have gone, at least, four days without practice in preparing for the Volunteers.
“The good thing,” Clyburn said when asked the challenges of a short week of practice, “is that we have two defenses and we keep it simple. Those make it difficult for the offense to prepare for.
“On offense, we need to continue to work with our blocking drills and drills which will help us break tackles. We need to make that extra effort to block. Scheme-wise, though, we have plenty of offense which we have already put in but we still have to work on.”