It was senior night at Stephen Decatur high school on Oct. 30, so to start and end the night, fireworks were launched from the south endzone.
While the fireworks attracted many eyes, most folks were there for a 3A Bayside South clash between the Seahawks football team and the James M. Bennett Clippers. If the fans came for something pretty, they got that in the fireworks, because from 6-8:13 p.m. between the white lines on the gridiron at Seahawk Stadium, there was nothing attractive on the football field.
And that’s just how the Clippers like it.
“When we got to camp on Aug.13, I told (the team) we’re going to pound the ground, take care of the football and we’re going to win with good special teams,” Clippers’ head coach Glenn “Hoot” Gibson said. “I told them that sometimes, we’re going to win ugly.”
The Clippers’ 23-14 win over the Seahawks on Friday night was as ugly a game that any team in the Bayside Conference has played all year.
There were five unsportsmanlike conduct penalties between the two sides, lots of sloppy plays and a few misguided passes, but the Clippers perfected the one thing that is key to winning any football game. They took care of the ball.
While the Seahawks (3-6) fumbled twice, the Clippers (6-3) never turned the ball over the opposing defense.
“We didn’t turn the ball over. All of the things that have haunted us this year we didn’t do,” Gibson said. “We won ugly and I don’t care.”
From Decatur’s side, there were a few on-field fireworks in the first half thanks to the crafty playmaking ability of junior quarterback Darion McKenzie.
After Bennett’s first score, a one-yard rush by Ty King, McKenzie scored on the first play of Decatur’s next possession. It was a read option, and instead of handing the ball off, McKenzie glided his way through the defense, broke a few tackles at midfield and sprinted into the endzone for an 80-yard touchdown.
Minutes later, after Bennett had retaken the lead after a Steve Oscar 24-yard field goal, McKenzie dazzled the defense again. He took a quarterback draw up the gut, juked to his right and coasted for a 24-yard score.
But by halftime, the Clippers defense had enough of him.
“The mentality changed at halftime,” said Luke Prunty, the Clippers’ senior defensive tackle. “We figured out that we couldn’t run tackles out with the quarterback running up the gut. The D-Line said, you know, we have to step it up this half and we did and got it done.”
Prunty notched one the Clippers’ defense’s three sacks of McKenzie in the second half when he gobbled him up in the backfield in the final quarter for a 12-yard loss.
While sophomore fullback Loma Thomas added a touchdown for the Bennett offense to help pad the lead in the fourth quarter, the Clippers’ defense pitched a second half shutout to secure the win.
“The goal is always to get the zero,” Prunty said. “We did that in the second half so we’re happy with that.”
Thomas’ touchdown was the play that really put the game out of reach for the Seahawks. That Clipper drive began at the end of the third quarter on their own six-yard line. But nine plays later, the black and red had marched 94 yards and capped it off by putting the ball in Thomas’ hands.
“We made a couple of turnovers and Bennett just played well. They pounded us,” Seahawks’ head coach Bob Knox said. “That 90-yard drive they had kind of broke our backs a little bit. But we kept fighting. We got fighters here.”
In total, Bennett’s two-headed rushing attack of the speedy senior King and the bruising Thomas accounted for 241 rushing yard and three touchdowns on 42 carries.
“We just counterpunch with those guys,” Gibson said. “We just see what the defense is doing and we go with what works. Whatever works, we go with.”
For the Seahawks, this nine-point loss is tacked up for another “what could have been” for their injury riddled season.
“I’ve never seen a team so decimated by injuries. Their coaching staff is unbelievable and Bobby Knox has my respect,” Gibson said. “Ernest Shockley is unblockable and that is a very different team there without all of the injuries that they have had. They’re probably 7-3 and going to the playoffs.”
But as the old cliché goes, that’s just football. Instead, the Clippers are eyeing 7-3 with a matchup with Wi-Hi for the Salisbury City Championship on Nov. 6. The Clippers will need some help to earn their first playoff berth in nearly six years, but this win against Decatur, which was worth 10 playoff points, certainly doesn’t hurt their efforts.
“We’re not even thinking about playoffs, we’re thinking about Wi-Hi,” Prunty said. “They’re going to play up for us and we got to play up for them.”