After enduring an uncharacteristic five-fumble, 90-penalty yard performance in their first round game against North Lenoir, the Dark Horses were itching to get back on the field for Friday’s second round playoff game against South Granville. The Horses came out much sharper and made quick work of the Vikings, running out to a 21-7 halftime lead then putting the game away early in the third quarter on the way to a 45-7 lashing of the Vikings.
The Dark Horses kicked off to the Vikings and allowed a return out to the 37-yard line. The Clinton defense came out in a bad mood and stuffed the visitors on three straight plays forcing the first punt of the game. The Viking punt rolled dead on the Dark Horse 26-yard line where the Horses took over for the first offensive possession of the night.
The Dark Horse offense went on the attack, quickly picking up a first down, then on second-and-8 from their own 40-yard line Kris Williams connected with Tyion Wright for a 45-yard gain down to the Viking 15-yard line. Two plays later Ryheem Skinner rumbled around the right end, carrying three South Granville defenders for the final 8-yards of a bruising 15-yard touchdown run. Chandler Perry added the PAT and Clinton lead 7-0 at the 6:54 mark of the first quarter.
On the ensuing Viking drive the Dark Horse defense continued it’s dominant play, forcing another three-and-out. A short Viking punt resulted in Clinton getting the ball back at midfield. The Dark Horses were setback by a 15-yard chop block penalty on second down, but on third-and-21, Williams dropped back to pass, was flushed from the pocket and scrambled for a 16-yard gain before being forced out of bounds. The Vikings were flagged for a personal foul facemask penalty, giving the Dark Horses a first down and keeping the drive alive.
The Dark Horses used several nice runs by Skinner, Wright and Isaiah Page to power the ball into the red zone. Page capped the 50-yard scoring drive with a three-yard plunge with 8 seconds remaining in the first quarter, and after Perry added the PAT the Horses had a two score lead at 14-0, and looked to be in total control of the game.
The Vikings finally got things going on their third possession, using a nice mix of pass and option runs to grind out a 62-yard scoring drive. The Vikings efficiently convert two fourth down plays on the drive before running the ball in from the Clinton 4-yard line with 5:01 remaining in the first half. The Vikings converted the PAT, making the score 14-7 and giving the visitors a glimmer of hope.
The Dark Horse offense quickly extinguished the flames of any hopes the Vikings first score had sparked. Clinton went on a 62-yard scoring drive of their own that was highlighted by a 35-yard burst up the middle by Wright, setting the Dark Horses up first-and-goal from the 8-yard line. Three plays later Wright finished off the drive with a three-yard dash around the left end for the score. Perry’s kick was once again true to extend the Clinton lead to 21-7 at the 2:40 mark of the second quarter.
The Dark Horses got the ball back once more before the half, forcing another Viking punt, but were unable to mount a drive before time expired in the half, sending the teams to the locker room with Clinton holding a 21-7 lead.
The Dark Horses put the Vikings on notice early in the third quarter that they had no intentions of letting the visitors hang around. On the first offensive play of the second half, Clinton quarterback Kris Williams faked a pitch to Skinner, tucked the ball on his hip and threw a 67-yard scoring strike to Wright. Perry added the PAT for the Horses’ largest lead of the game at 28-7, just 22 seconds into the third quarter.
The Dark Horse defense picked up where they left off in the first half, forcing their third three and out series of the game and another Viking punt. The Dark Horses once again had a short field after the Viking punter shanked his kick that was downed at the Viking 49-yard line.
The Dark Horses drove the ball into the red zone, but this time stalled inside the 5-yard line and called on Perry to attempt a chip-shot field goal. Perry was up to the task, easily handling the 20-yard kick to extend the Dark Horse lead to 31-7 at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter.
The Dark Horse defense continued to harass the Vikings, once again forcing a punt after pinning the visitors deep in their end of the field. With their backs against the wall the Vikings faked the punt and caught the Dark Horses off guard, picking up their first, first down of the second half to extend the drive. The South Granville success was short lived as the drive ended when they failed to convert on 4th down and 9-yards to go, they turned the ball back over to Clinton on the South Granville 35-yard line as the third quarter ended.
The Dark Horses were content to keep the ball on the ground, using up clock and moving the ball into the red zone. Page capped the short scoring drive with a 3-yard run with 9:42 remaining in the game. Perry added the PAT kick to push the Clinton lead to 38-7.
The Dark Horse defense, once again forced a Viking punt and took over at midfield. On first down, Williams spotted a wide open Prentice Murphy in the right flat, but the pass was tipped at the line and intercepted to turn the ball back to the Vikings at their own 46-yard line.
South Granville looked to capitalize on the Dark Horse miscue, driving the ball deep into Clinton’s end of the field on a couple of nice pass plays. On third down from the 24-yard line, South Granville’s quarterback floated a pass toward the goal that Williams, in his position as safety, stepped in front of and intercepted at the 11-yard line. Williams caught the ball in stride and didn’t slow down until he crossed the goal line with an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown. Perry tacked on the PAT kick to give the Dark Horses their final point of the night and a 45-7 lead with 3:22 left in the game.
After the game, Williams said of the interception, “I see myself as a receiver on defense and just go after the ball on every pass play. This one was really sweet after throwing that interception. I was able to get one back for the team.”
South Granville was unable to get anything going on offense as the clock expired, setting off a Dark Horse celebration. As the teams met at midfield, word spread through the stadium that Clinton’s next playoff opponent would be a familiar one, as Northside defeated Bunn to earn a return trip to Clinton next Friday.
The Dark Horse offense was very efficient in the second round win, tallying 38 points on 336 yards of total offense. Skinner had 107 rushing yards on 13 carries with one touchdown. Wright carried 12 times for 57 yards and a score and Page had five carries for 20 yards and a touchdown. Williams hit 3-of-4 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown with one interception. All three passes were caught by Wright, who made two spectacular grabs, one for a score and one to keep a first half drive alive.
Defensively the Horses were led by Prentice Murphy’s 12 tackles. Mike Kramer, Frank Nelson and Devonte Smith each had seven tackles and Williams intercepted a pass and returned it 89 yards for a score. Trey Warren and AJ Williamson had pass break-ups with Williamson adding six tackles.
After the game Clinton head coach Bob Lewis was much happier with his team’s second round performance, saying “South Granville has a good team, they are well coached. They are tough to defend. You are only going to see the offense they play a couple of times a year and you really have to be disciplined and play your assignments. We played much better this week than last week, we corrected the mistakes and you could see the difference early on.”
Lewis stated that the Horses have to enjoy this win and get right back to work, commenting on next week’s game. “We were sort of hoping to get a shot at Bunn after what happened up there last year. Northside is a good football team, they are loaded with tall rangy boys that can run. It is always tough to beat a good team twice, we have our work cut out for us, it will be a battle.
Page may have summed up Clinton’s improved performance best in his postgame comments. “We had a good week of practice this week, we listened to the coaches and used what they told us to play good defense tonight. We will be ready for Northside next week, we just have to keep listening to our coaches and executing the game plan.”
The win over South Granville runs Clinton’s record to 13-0 on the season and sets up a rematch with Jacksonville Northside. The Monarchs earned their third round berth with a 15-7 win over Bunn and will bring a 10-3 record into next week’s third round game. The third round playoff game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. Friday kickoff at Dark Horse Stadium.