Clinton traveled to High Point on Friday night for a third round NCHSAA 2AA playoff matchup with number one seeded High Point Andrews. The Dark Horses were looking to invade AJ Simeon Stadium, and upset the powerful 12-1 Red Raiders.The teams locked up in a defensive standoff for three quarters, before the offenses awoke early in the fourth quarter to make it an exciting finish.
In the end it, was a miscue on a special teams play that would make the difference and give the Dark Horses a 14-13 win.
Clinton came out of the gates playing inspired defensively. After winning the coin toss and electing to go on defense first, the Horses shut the Red Raiders down forcing a punt after three running plays. The Dark Horse Offense did not have much better luck against the big physical Red Raider Defense as the first quarter turned into a battle of the punters. Clinton’s Chandler Perry did an outstanding job of keeping the Red Raiders bottled up near their own goal line all night in a game of field position.
Very late in the first quarter, the Red Raider punter uncorked a long kick that pinned the Dark Horses at their nine yard line. It was at this point that the Clinton offense began to gain some traction on the muddy Simeon Stadium field. Grinding out short run after short run the Horses went on a 17 play drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock and was capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Kris Williams to Prentice Murphy at the 4:54 mark of the second quarter. Chandler Perry kicked the PAT and Clinton had a 7-0 lead in a game that points were hard to come by.
The teams swapped punts on the next two possessions with the defenses continuing to own the field. Clinton’s offense looked to be moving for another potential score inside the final minute of the half when a botched snap exchange resulted in a fumble that gave the Red Raiders the ball at the Clinton 43- yard line with less than a minute to play. The Andrews quarter back slipped a couple of tackles on the first play from scrimmage and then heaved a pass into the Clinton end zone that was intercepted by Jeremiah Pope to preserve the tenuous Dark Horse lead at the half.
The third quarter looked like a remake of the first half with each team getting two possessions that ended with punts. Perry continued to do a good job of punting the ball inside the 10-yard line and forcing the Red Raiders to play out of the shadow of their goal posts all night.
The Red Raiders finally got the ball moving early in the fourth quarter. After taking a Clinton punt out to the 17-yard line they got a nice first down gain of 11-yards out to their 28-yard line. The Andrews quarterback, Bailey Willis, dropped back and found Akim Cambell behind the Dark Horse defense for a 72-yard touchdown pass, tying the score at 7-7 after the successful PAT kick with 10:38 left in the game.
Clinton took the ensuing kickoff at their own 21-yard line and seemed to have been inspired by their opponents score. On the first play from Scrimmage, Rayquan Faison, slashed over left tackle for a 54-yard gain, the longest Dark Horse play of the night. After two bruising runs by Ryheem Skinner, Rayquan Faison capped the four play 79-yard drive with a four yard plunge into the end-zone. The Faison score gave Clinton a 14-7 lead after Chandler Perry tacked on the PAT kick with 9:13 remaining in the game.
The Red Raiders next drive started at their 40-yard line. It didn’t take the Red Raiders long to answer the Clinton score as Jaymon Cherry darted through the Dark Horse defense for a 21-yard scoring play that pulled Andrews within one of the Horses at the 6:33 mark of the fourth. On the PAT attempt the Red Raider kicker slipped and shanked the ball badly, missing wide right and leaving the Dark Horses on top 14-13.
The Dark Horse offense would not relinquish possession of the ball again, taking the Andrews kickoff and grinding out three huge first downs. Kris Williams gutted out a tough run on third and two and Tyion Wright and Rayquan Faison each had crucial runs to help Clinton milk the clock. After Andrews called their final timeout the Dark Horses were able to line up in the victory formation for two plays and begin the celebration.
After the game, Clinton Head Coach, Bob Lewis said, “this was an old fashioned, hard-nosed football game. Our offense played good, our defense played good and we got a big win over a good football team.” Lewis talked about an adjustment the coaching staff put in for the big Andrews defensive front, adding, “we moved the backs up closer to the line of scrimmage to get them in the hole quicker. This helped the offensive line not have to wrestle quite as long with those big boys.”
Lewis had to be proud of his defense, after they had given up some points to teams earlier in the playoffs they stepped it up against the Red Raiders. “The defensive front played really well tonight. They had been a little porous the last couple of weeks but tonight they did a good job”, added the Dark Horse coach.
Rayquan Faison, who has played extremely well for Clinton during the playoffs said after the game, “as a senior I am not ready for the season to end. I am going to give it my all and do whatever it takes to win.” Faison’s backfield mate, Ryheem Skinner gave the Dark Horse offensive line credit for opening running lanes, adding “the offensive line came to play tonight. They did a great job giving us some holes to run through, they deserve a lot of credit.”
Offensively the Dark Horses were led by Rayquan Faison’s 115 yards on 20 carries with 1 touchdown. Ryheem Skinner toted the ball 21 times for 110 yards, Kris Williams carried the ball 3 times for negative 8 yards but had a crucial first down run on Clinton’s last possession that helped ice the game. Williams was 1 for 5 passing the ball for 26 yards and a touchdown, that being the second quarter completion to Prentice Murphy.
On defense Prentice Murphy was all over the field tallying 16 tackles for the Horses. Jonathan Wright had 8 stops and Rayquan Faison added 5 tackles from his linebacker position. Jeremiah Pope intercepted a pass in the end-zone to thwart a late first half scoring threat.
The win moves the Dark Horses into the 2AA Eastern Championship game next Friday night. Clinton will take their 11-2 record on the road against the 12-2 Bunn Wildcats. A win next Friday would send the Dark Horses back to the state championship for a second consecutive year.