Clinton traveled to Burgaw on Friday night to open their Four County Conference schedule against the Pender Patriots. A rain shower passed through the area about an hour before kickoff and turned an already saturated field into a swamp, making good footing a tricky proposition for both teams. The Dark Horses didn’t seem to mind the sloppy track as they got off to a quick start, scoring three times in the first quarter and adding two more in the second on their way to the 50-6 win.
The Patriots were backed up in poor field position for most of the first half, as the Dark Horse defense forced two early turnovers and allowed only one first down by the Patriots in the first half. Tyion Wright got Clinton on the board at the 7:31 mark of the first quarter when he sprinted around left end for a 5-yard TD run. Chandler Perry added the PAT kick and the Horses had enough points to secure the win. Wright added another score when he scooped up a fumble and raced into the end zone with his second touchdown of the night. Once again Perry added the PAT and Clinton held a 14-0 lead at the 1:15 mark of the second quarter.
Pender was once again saddled with poor field position on their next possession, backed up by a penalty on the first play and then a sack resulting in second down inside their own 10-yard line. Smelling blood, Clinton’s coaches dialed up a blitz, and Prentice Murphy got into the backfield, forcing a Pender fumble that was covered by Devonte Smith giving the Dark Horses another red zone possession. The offense trotted onto the field and quickly took advantage of the turnover when Jalen Smith rumbled over the goal line, giving Clinton their second score in less than a minute. Perry tacked on the PAT and the Dark Horses led 21-0 with 0:15 remaining in the first quarter.
The Dark Horse defense forced another three and out on Pender’s next possession and after a short punt Clinton’s offense was back in business at the Patriot’s 34-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage Clinton quarterback, Kris Williams, found Ryheem Skinner with a pass in the flats. Skinner turned and darted to the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown reception, increasing Clinton’s lead to 28-0 after Perry’s fourth successful PAT at the 11:30 mark of the second quarter.
Pender finally gave their fans something to cheer about when they returned the ensuing kickoff 88-yards setting their offense up with first and goal at the Clinton 7-yard line. The Dark Horses refused to let the Patriots into the end zone, stuffing each attempt and pushing Pender backwards until they faced a fourth-and-goal from the 19-yard line. The Patriots opted to put some points on the board by sending their place kicker into the game, and he promptly nailed the 35-yard kick, to give the Patriots their first points of the night, making the score 28-3 with 8:42 remaining in the first half.
Pender, inspired by their first points, attempted an onside kick that failed when their player caught the ball before it hit the ground. The Dark Horses once again had excellent field position near midfield and were looking to add another score before halftime. It didn’t take long for Clinton to meet that goal as they drove the ball inside the Pender 15-yard line. Skinner got into the end zone from 12 yards out, tip-toeing down the right sideline for his second score of the night and increasing the Clinton lead to 35-3 with Perry adding the PAT at the 6:19 mark of the second quarter.
The teams swapped punts on their next two possessions with Pender getting the ball back with 0:52 remaining in the half after a failed fake punt attempt by the Dark Horses. The Patriots utilized their timeouts and moved the ball into the red zone before their drive stalled and they once again opted to kick a field goal. This time the Pender kicker was true from 30 yards as time expired in the first half. The field goal cut the Clinton lead to 35-6 going into the half.
Wright picked up a short, rolling kickoff to open the second half. The speedy Wright picked his way through traffic down to the Patriot’s 21-yard line, once again giving the Dark Horses good field position. After two big gainers were nullified by penalties the Dark Horses were faced with third-and-16 from the Pender 27-yard line. Kris Williams faked a hand off and flipped a screen pass to Skinner who blasted through several Pender tacklers, gaining 25 yards down to the 2-yard line to keep the drive alive. Skinner took the ball over right guard on the next play to post his third score of the night. On the PAT attempt Kris Williams corralled a bad snap and alertly raced around the right end to pick up the two-pointer, giving Clinton a 43-6 lead at the 9:23 mark of the third quarter.
Pender once again capitalized on the Dark Horses’ porous kick coverage, returning the kick 43 yards out to their own 43-yard line. After a couple of rushing first downs the Patriots were knocking on the door again. The Dark Horses turned back the threat when Trey Warren picked off a Pender pass giving the Dark Horse the ball back at their 24-yard line. On the next play A.J. Williamson took a hand off up the middle and 74-yards later dashed across the goal line for the final Dark Horse score of the night. Chandler Perry added the PAT kick to move the score to 50-6 with 3:43 left in the third.
The Dark Horses substituted freely for most of the second half getting most everyone on the field by the end of the game. The second and third team players performed well, continuing to dominate the Clinton defense and not committing any costly errors on offense.
Skinner had another strong performance gaining 71 yards on the ground, scoring two rushing touchdowns and gaining 64 yards through the air on two catches and one TD reception. Williamson exploded for 76 yards on two carries and a score. Wright got two scores, one a 5-yard first quarter scamper and another on a fumble recovery. Williams was 2 for 2 through the air for 64 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively the Horses were stout, allowing only three first downs and forcing four turnovers. Devonte Smith and Prentice Murphy led the way with seven tackles each. Wright, Smith and Prentice Murphy recovered fumbles and Trey Warren intercepted a third quarter pass. Aaron Highsmith added six tackles and Mike Kramer was in on five stops.
After the game Clinton head coach, Bob Lewis was pleased to get the first conference game in the books.
“This is a good start to the conference season, a good win for us,” Lewis said. “Probably the biggest thing for us tonight was that we got to play a lot of people and get everyone some game experience. That will always pay off down the road.”
The win moves Clinton’s record to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play. The Dark Horses are on the road again next Friday when they travel to East Bladen to take on the Eagles. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.