Quarterback Will Carr graded Clinton’s offense as a B-plus or A-minus in its opener Thursday. The only letter that really mattered for the River Kings was W.
Clinton rushed for 310 yards — 120 from Carr — in a 34-20 victory over Davenport North in the first Mississippi Athletic Conference game of the season. The other eight teams in the conference begin play tonight.
“The o-line did an outstanding job,” Carr said. “The run game was open all night. We’ve got to fix things in the passing game. Things got a little bit hectic. But once we lock that down, you’ll be seeing A-plus material.”
That seemed to be the theme of the night for the River Kings — a lot of things were done right, but there still is a lot to work on.
“It’s always positive to see your kids do things well and come out with a win,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said. “We also found a lot we can work on and improve on. The bottom line is we got a W. We got tested at times and bounced back.”
The River Kings received the opening kickoff and then lost a fumble on their first play from scrimmage.
“We knew it was just a fluke and we’d get over it,” Carr said. “It was just a miscommunication between me and some of the guys. We picked it up and didn’t have any problems like that the rest of the night.”
Clinton’s defense forced North into a three-and-out and then the offense started rolling.
“I was ready to get that ball back as soon as I got off the field; I couldn’t wait,” Carr said. “I knew they weren’t going to stop us again; we were getting in that end zone.”
The River Kings went 66 yards in four plays, capped by a 26-yard touchdown run by Ryan Driscoll to open the scoring.
Clinton needed only one play to score on its third possession — a 51-yard touchdown run by Carr.
Then the River Kings marched down the field, covering 55 yards in 12 plays and taking up the final 5:36 of the quarter.
Driscoll punched the ball in from the 1-yard-line on the first play of the second quarter to put Clinton ahead 19-0, 6 seconds into the second quarter.
“It was a great start,” Carr said. “That’s exactly the way we needed to come out and how we were expecting to.”
Clinton racked up 178 yards rushing in the first quarter on 18 carries, almost 10 yards a rush.
“We had a specific game plan that we worked on,” Clinton offensive coordinator Kurt Denahy said. “Will Carr was doing a great job. He was making reads. Basically, he was making it so the defense, whatever they do, they’re wrong. We put a lot of time and effort into making that happen, and he did a great job. Obviously, the offensive line, nothing happens without them.”
The River Kings offense stagnated, though. Clinton gained only 29 more yards in the second quarter and 6 total in the third quarter.
“Our tempo slowed down and the guys got a little flat,” Denahy said. “We struggled a little bit. I think it was a mental lull.”
Carr said: “We started slacking and doing things wrong. We’ve got to clean that up because we won’t always have a big lead at the beginning.”
Clinton’s defense was dominant in the first half. North gained only 28 yards in the first two quarters.
“I think we had a good game plan to take away their tailback,” Clinton defensive coordinator Jon Wauford said. “Obviously coming into the game, we knew he was their best player. That part of the plan worked well. For the most part, we were able to minimize his ability to rush the ball.”
North’s top running back, Robert Pemberton, gained 6 yards on four carries in the first half and finished with 37 yards on 11 carries.
But in the third quarter, it was his arm that put the Wildcats on the board.
North came out throwing the ball to start the second half. Quarterback Dylan Beyhl completed 5 of 7 passes on the opening drive for 44 yards and set his team up at the 20. He then handed the ball off to Pemberton, who lofted a pass to Quilin Johnson in the end zone and cut Clinton’s lead to 19-7.
After a three-and-out by Clinton, Beyhl marched the Wildcats down the field again. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 60 yards and rushed for 22 yards. Beyhl threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Johnson to pull North to within 19-13. Beyhl threw for 102 of his 181 yards in the third quarter.
“Their quarterback is a good player, and we knew that,” Wauford said. “We put so much time and energy into stopping their tailback that we weren’t as prepared as we needed to be to stop the pass.”
Clinton got the ball back 12 seconds into the fourth quarter and the offense started gaining yards again.
“They changed their defense,” Denahy said. “It took a little bit for us to recognize it and exploit what they were doing.”
The River Kings moved the ball 19 yards after being set up with good field position but faced fourth-and-6 from North’s 22.
Carr faked a handoff, kept the ball and ran left for a 22-yard touchdown. He rushed for 37 yards on the drive.
“That’s all thanks to the o-linemen,” Carr said. “They opened up a bunch of amazing holes.”
That spoke volumes for several fill-ins on the offensive line.
“There are some kids who have done a tremendous job,” Camp said. “We’ve got two kids from last year who were starters and had offensive knee injuries. They’re not back yet. Then a few nights ago, Raf Ramirez comes up with an injury. The attitude of these players is they’re the next guy and they need to be ready.”
North came back with a touchdown of its own, a 7-yard pass from Beyhl to Johnson, to pull within 26-20. North marched 74 yards in 13 plays on the scoring drive, including eight passes for 61 yards.
The score came with 2:44 to play. Clinton recovered an onside kick and quickly put the game away.
Carr rushed for 15 yards and then Dustin Caldwell ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run.
Caldwell’s touchdown run came on a triple option. Carr faked the ball to Driscoll up the middle and then rolled left with Caldwell trailing him. Carr pitched the ball right before he got hit, and Caldwell took off down the sideline.
“That’s the triple option that we’ve been working in practice,” Carr said. “It came out perfectly there. They hadn’t seen it all game, and we finally got to use it. That’s a great example of what things are going to be like the rest of the season.”
Denahy said he would like it if his quarterback pitched the ball a little sooner on that play.
“I’d prefer if he didn’t get hit at all,” he said. “But as long as we’re protecting the ball, that’s our No. 1 priority.”
Camp said in some ways it was a good thing that the River Kings didn’t continue with the blowout it seemed the game might turn into early in the second quarter.
“It’s blatant that we need to work on some things,” he said. “We knew it coming in. Sometimes this is good for the kids to see, too, that this is where we need to work.”
What’s definitely a good thing is an extra day between games early in the season.
“The biggest improvement comes from Game 1 to 2,” Camp said. “Now, we’ve got an extra day. We can evaluate our film (today) and that’s out of the way. Then the next time we meet, we’re already game-planning for next week.”
Last season an 0-3 start hurt the psyche of the River Kings. An opening-week win should have the opposite effect.
“It’s a world of change from last year,” Carr said. “When you start out 0-3, that just kills your momentum. You’re playing to compete or maybe not get killed, instead of playing to win, which is what we’re doing this year.”
CLINTON 34, DAVENPORT NORTH 20
Clinton 13 6 0 15 — 34
North 0 0 13 7 — 20
C — Ryan Driscoll 26 run (kick failed), 8:12
C — Will Carr 51 run (Jeremy Peters kick), 6:51
C — Driscoll 1 run (kick failed), 11:56
DN — Quilin Johnson 20 pass from Robert Pemberton (Corey Iossi kick), 7:26
DN — Johnson 10 pass from Dylan Beyhl (kick blocked), 1:46
C — Carr 22 run (Peters kick), 8:59
DN — Johnson 7 pass from Beyhl (Iossi kick), 2:24
C — Dustin Caldwell 40 run (Tyler Thacker pass from Carr), 2:03
Rushing — Clinton (38-310), Will Carr 15-120, Jaylen Broadenaux 6-70, Ryan Driscoll 14-68, Dustin Caldwell 4-52; North (29-77), Robert Pemberton 11-37, Dylan Beyhl 13-29, Jordan Trowers 4-9, Quilin Johnson 1-2.
Passing — Clinton (0-4-0), Carr 0-4-0. North (18-29-0, 201 yards), Beyhl 17-28-0, 181 yards; Pemberton 1-1-0, 20 yards.
Receiving — North (18-201), Johnson 9-108, Iossi 1-25, Mahonri Ray 2-22, Jacob Borcher 1-17, Marcus Drake 2-15, Pemberton 3-14.