Sometimes, you just can’t win for losing.
At least, that is how North Central head football coach Louis Clyburn was left to explain things following his team’s 36-28 loss to host Timmonsville on Friday night in a non-region game played in the Pee Dee region.
There were just too many positives which took place for the visitors on a night in which they fell to 0-2 on the young season. The Whirlwinds evened their record at 1-1 with the victory which came after a loss to AAA Wilson in Week Zero.
“We had too many things which went right for us to have lost this game,” Clyburn said following the contest. “We had a blocked punt go for a touchdown; we made two extra points and played hard. We played a very good game against a pretty darn good team.”
Clyburn compared his team’s task against Timmonsville like trying to catch rabbits, albeit the Whirlwinds had at least two players who hardly fit that description in a 6-foot-5 defensive end and a 6-foot-4, 220-pound linebacker.
Trailing 36-28 with less than three minutes to play in the contest, the Knights had the ball at the THS five while staring down a fourth and one situation. Going for the first down, the call was for a running play. At first, the official on the NC side of the field had the runner being dragged down at the four, which would have been good enough for the first down. But the official across the field had a different spot, ruling the guests came up inches short.
Sending their defense onto the field, the Knights held and forced a Whirlwind punt while using a pair of timeouts in the process.
Getting the ball back at the THS 20 with some 40 ticks left in the game clock, NC saw its chances at playing for overtime go by the boards on dropped pass in the end zone with a few seconds left in the contest. The pass was, at first, caught. But when the receiver tried to cradle the ball, it slid off his hip and onto the ground.
Clyburn was both disappointed and a bit upbeat after the final horn had sounded.
“It was a war out there,” he said of the game. “Our kids just kept fighting, though. Both teams battled tooth and nail for 48 minutes.”
The hosts jumped to the early 6-0 lead with tailback Terrance McFadden capping a drive with a one-yard scoring plunge with 8:46 left in the first quarter. The two-point conversion run failed as THS grabbed the 6-0 lead.
The Knights responded with a touchdown on the ensuing drive with sophomore tailback Cedric Cunningham sprinting into the end zone with a 22-yard carry, up the middle, at the 4:12 marker of the first quarter. John Bowers then split the uprights with his PAT kick which gave the Knights the 7-6 lead.
After using his toe to give the hosts a one-point advantage, Bowers used his legs to up the score to 14-6.
The senior quarterback capped a march by scoring on a two-yard quarterback keeper and then booting home the extra point kick as the visitors took a 14-6 lead just five seconds into what would be a wild second stanza.
McFadden evened things at 14 when he scored on a 64-yard run and added the two-point conversion run on top of that to tie this one with 11:02 left before intermission.
NC came right back with Bowers calling his own number, scoring from four yards out on a naked bootleg as NC regained the upper hand at 20-14 with 5:30 left in the second quarter.
Taking snaps from the shotgun and from center Darius Myers, as well as under center, Bowers led a potent NC offense which rushed for some 150 yards in the first 24 minutes.
“We went back and forth between the shotgun and underneath (center),” Clyburn said of his team’s offense. “We lined up in the ‘I’ and we ran the power and the toss sweep. We really mixed our offense up and John Bowers did a great job of running the offense for us at quarterback.”
The Whirlwinds carried a 22-20 lead into the locker room at the break after Leander Price recorded a safety with 2:34 left before halftime. The hosts then cashed in on a short field after the free kick with Shaykell Jackson going in from seven yards out with 52 ticks left in the first half clock.
After punting once in the first 24 minutes, the Knights were forced to punt three times in a forgettable third quarter. Included in the guests’ problems were the loss of starting right tackle Kirk Hudson and starting right guard John Shelly, both due to injury, early in the second half.
“We had a bad third quarter,” Clyburn said. “When Hudson and Shelly got hurt, we were forced to change our game plan because we had to change our right guard and right tackle. We also gave them a short field a couple times in the third quarter.”
The Whirlwinds took advantage of NC’s offensive woes in the third quarter as Jackson struck for a 40-yard run with 8:25 showing on the clock. He then found O’Neal McCray with the two-point pass as the hosts extended their lead to 30-20. Tyshawn Eaddy then got into the scoring act with 1:44 to play in the third quarter when he dashed in with a 39-yard carry to make it a 36-20 lead.
Clyburn said Timmonsville’s speed caused problems for the Knights.
“It absolutely did,” he said. “Their speed was certainly something that we had to contend with all night.”
That speed and quickness also showed up on the defensive side of the football as the Whirlwinds blitzed and stunted in slowing down the Knights’ running game which was not nearly as effective after halftime and with the injuries to Hudson and Shelley.
“That worked,” Clyburn said of the stunts and blitzes. “When they did that, we went to our screen-passing game.
With its offense being held in check, the Knights came up big on special teams early in the fourth quarter with sophomore DeAunte Samuel blocking a THS punt and recovering the loose ball in the end zone for the touchdown with 10:19 left in the game. Bowers then found Jay Parks with the two-point pass conversion to cut the deficit to 36-28.
With losses to C.A. Johnson and Timmonsville to open the season, Clyburn said the goal for his team is to win its final two non-conference games --- at home with East Clarendon and then, Camden Military Academy --- and carry a 2-2 record into the six-game Region 4-AA campaign.
“For the second week in a row,” Clyburn said, “we came up short, for whatever reason. But we have faced two good teams; these are not cupcakes. We are very frustrated, but our kids battled, scratched and clawed all the way to the end of the game.
“We will continue to go out and make adjustments in practice. These kids are hungry and they want to win. We just have to figure out a way for us to get better.”