A long four-hour drive and icy winds that made it feel like 10 degrees was not enough to stop the Dark Horses in Friday night’s football playoff action. They came away with the win over eighth-seed First Flight, winning 21-15 to advance to the second round.
The Horses’ running earned them this win, the ground game proving too strong and physical as the Nighthawks struggled to stop them all game. That came despite Clinton being without their leading rusher Jalen Smith, out due to suspension.
Clinton struck first in this contest about halfway through the first quarter. Zion Autry powered his way through a couple of Nighthawk defenders at the goal line for the easy touchdown. The point after kick was successful from Chandler Perry and at 6:47 the Horses claimed a 7-0 lead.
From there, it was one possession change after another until 7:53 in the second quarter when the Horses found the end zone again. Copying their first touchdown, they got another score on a goal line carry, this time by A.J. Williamson. Perry failed on the PAT, but they went ahead by two scores at 13-0.
First Flight didn’t quit, finding their way on the scoreboard late in the second quarter. They marched downfield and had a couple penalty calls go their way, scoring on a goal line run of their own. With a good PAT kick and 4:42 left in the half, the Nighthawks were back in the game 13-7.
The excitement picked up immediately as the second half began with First Flight going for a gutsy onside kick call. They got the recovery as the crowd erupted, however Clinton’s defense held strong, forcing a punt. From there, the third quarter was quiet as neither team could put together a scoring drive.
Then, at 7:03 in the fourth, the Horses were in the end zone yet again on a goal line rush attempt. This time it was Knowlydge Evans, who carried the load all night while Smith was out, who put it in for Clinton. They opted to go for two and Williamson delivered, finding room to the outside and easily converting the play to extend the score to the largest margin all night, 21-7.
First Flight continued to fight until the end, getting their second touchdown with 4:43 left in the game. It was an easy score on a simple carry up the middle that went for 30-plus yards. The Nighthawks went for two as well and got it on a quick spurt around the edge, bringing them one step closer at 21-15.
That would be the final scoring drive of the night as Clinton held on to win the first round playoff match.
Evans was the front man for the offense, ending the night with 166 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. Williamson was behind him with 127 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown and Autry rounded out the rushing attack with 39 yards on five carries and a touchdown.
Defensively, regular season conference leader Jaivah Cruse led in tackles with 13, followed by Donovan Sloan with 10 tackles and a sack and Williamson with eight tackles.
The Horses are back on the road Friday, making another long trip to face off against undefeated Northeastern in the second round.
Reach Michael Hardison at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @SampsonInd.