Clinton played their second football game of the week when they hosted Jacksonville Northside on Friday night. The two teams came into the endowment game touting perfect records, Northside at 3-0 and Clinton 2-0, and both ranked in the top 10 in the 2-A football polls.
For most of three and a half quarters the Monarchs and Dark Horses were locked in a close game, with the Dark Horses holding a slim 5-point lead at 21-16 with just under nine minutes remaining in the game. But Clinton took control of the game, scoring twice and shutting down the Monarchs’ aerial attack to come away with the 35-16 victory.
The fireworks started right away as Clinton’s Ryheem Skinner took the opening kickoff, blasted up the middle, returning the ball across midfield to the Monarchs 44-yard line setting Clinton up with great field position. It only took a few plays for the Dark Horses to get on the scoreboard. Jalen Smith took an inside hand off, bounced off a tackle to the outside and out ran the Monarch defense for a 27 yard touchdown at the 9:48 mark of the first quarter. Chandler Perry added the PAT kick to give Clinton the 7-0 advantage.
Northside’s offense got the night started with an 80-yard scoring drive of their own. After a shaky start, the Monarchs settled down and converted a third down and 12 from their own 18-yard line to keep their opening drive alive. Northside then went on a steady march down field, completing several passes,the last of which went for a 9-yard scoring strike. After a successful 2-point conversion the Monarchs had the lead at 8-7 with 6:29 remaining in the first quarter.
Clinton once again got good field position on the ensuing kickoff. Skinner took a short kick and once again raced up the middle and across midfield to the Monarch’s 46-yard line. The Dark Horses gave the Monarchs a steady diet of their power running game, quickly driving the ball into the red zone. Tyion Wright put Clinton back in the driver’s seat with an 8-yard touchdown run giving the Dark Horses a 14-8 lead after Perry’s successful PAT kick at the 2:29 mark of the opening quarter.
Northside’s offense stalled on their next drive when they failed to convert on fourth-and-18 at the Clinton 37-yard line. The Dark Horses took over on downs and it looked as if the Dark Horse offensive machine was about to have a sputter of its own.
Facing a fourth down and short from their own 46-yard line the Clinton coaching staff, in a bold move, opted to leave the offense on the field. Behind some good blocking, Kris Williams picked up three yards to convert the first down. On the next play, Williams call his own number again keeping the ball on an option play and scampering 51 yards for a touchdown, and after Perry added the PAT kick Clinton opened up some breathing room at 21-8 with 6:50 left in the first half.
Neither team was able to get any more points on the board in the first half as the Clinton defense forced two turnovers, a Mike Kramer fumble recovery and Williams interception stopping Northside drives. Unfortunately for the Dark Horses they were unable to capitalize on either of the Monarch turnovers and took the 21-8 lead to the locker room for the halftime break.
The Dark Horses continued to have trouble on kickoff coverage as the Monarchs took the second half kickoff out to Clinton’s 36-yard line and looked to have regained some momentum. Mysteriously the Monarchs abandoned their passing game and kept the ball on the ground. The Clinton defense stepped up and came up with a stop on fourth-and-1, taking over on downs on the Monarch 27-yard line.
The Dark Horse defense got a short break as Smith fumbled on the first play turning the ball back over to the Monarchs and putting the Dark Horse defense back on the field with their backs to the wall once again. The Dark Horses proved to be up to the challenge, when Jamarian Smith batted down a Monarch pass inside the 10-yard line to turn the ball back over to the Dark Horses.
The balance of the third quarter was played on Clinton’s side of the field as the Dark Horse defense was tested and answered every challenge. Clinton turned the Monarchs over on downs twice and forced a punt on the next three Northside possessions. The Monarchs defense was equally stout, as the Dark Horses were only able to advance the ball out to their 46-yard line on their four third quarter possessions.
When Clinton turned the ball over on downs at the end of the third quarter Northside finally found some holes in the Clinton defense. After a couple of short pass plays Northside had driven the ball to the Clinton 30-yard line. On second-and-10 from the 30-yard line the Monarch quarterback took a short drop and fired a short pass over the middle to a wide open receiver who sped into the end zone untouched for the first score of the second half. After converting on the 2-point try the Monarchs trailed by five at 21-16 with 11:19 remaining in the game.
Northside attempted a short pooch kick that Andrew Warren covered for Clinton, setting the Horses up with good field position once again with first down at their 40-yard line. The Dark Horse offense trotted on the field and seemed to be resolved to answer the Monarch score. Then Clinton line finally began to open holes in the Monarch front allowing enough space for the speedy running backs to pick up chunks of yardage. Wright picked up a huge third down conversion with a bruising run to keep the Clinton drive alive and Smith scored from 7 yards out with 8:21 remaining to give Clinton a commanding 28-16 lead after Perry’s PAT kick.
Inspired by the offense’s new found spark, the Dark Horse defense teed off on the Monarchs on the ensuing possession. After Chandler Perry boomed the kickoff through the end zone for a touchback, the Monarchs took over at their 20-yard line. Playing with a little more rest the Dark Horse defense limited Northside to 3 yards on four plays, taking over on downs at the Monarch’s 23-yard line.
Like sharks smelling blood, the Dark Horses wasted little time adding to their lead. Utilizing all three running backs Clinton moved the ball to the 10-yard line where Williams called on Smith once again. This time the sophomore blasted up the gut, took on the middle of the Monarch defense and carried several would be tacklers on his back across the goal line or the Dark Horses final score of the night, putting the game out of reach at the 4:45 mark of the fourth quarter. Perry added his fifth PAT kick of the game to run the score to 35-16.
The Monarchs took over on offense and moved the ball across midfield before their drive stalled, turning the ball over on downs at the Clinton 32-yard line. Clinton’s offense took over and ran the final two minutes off the clock before starting the celebration of their impressive win over a good football team.
After the game Clinton’s head coach Bob Lewis sang the praises of his defense.
“This is a very pleasing win because we knew they had a good football team. They showed they could score from anywhere on the field, but Coach Arnette, Coach Gray and Coach Bell came up with a great defensive plan. To hold that team to two touchdowns was quite a feat.”
Lewis said one of the keys to the defense’s success was a second quarter adjustment.
“We sent a linebacker after their quarterback to get some pressure on him. He had a free run there for awhile so we needed to slow him down. The defensive ends were new to their positions with AJ Williamson playing his first full game at the position, and they both played good games. In fact, the whole defense played really well.”
Clinton was led on offense by Smith with 85 yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns. Wright added 84 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown and quarterback Williams carried 10 times for 52 yards and one touchdown. Skinner had another big game, gaining 62 yards on 13 carries and adding over 60 yards of kickoff returns. The Dark Horses posted 257 total yards.
Defensively, the Horses were led by Mike Kramer’s 16 tackles with one fumble recovery. Isaiah Page added 13 stops, Khari Williams and Wright had six tackles each and Williams intercepted a pass, his third of the season. The defense allowed the Monarchs to gain 251 yards but came up with timely stops to limit the visitors to two scores.
The win improves Clinton’s record to 3-0. The Dark Horses will play their final non-conference game of the season when they welcome 4-A Wilmington Hoggard to Dark Horse Stadium next Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.