Tonight’s game at Matthews Field is easily the biggest game of the season thus far for the Knights. On the line, other than a four-game winning streak, is a guaranteed spot in the Region 4 cross over games in week 10. A victory over the win-less North Clayton Eagles will solidify at least a No. 4 seed in Region 4B. However, the Eagles’ 0-6 record can be a bit deceiving.
North Clayton’s opponents so far in 2012 have a combined record of 25-10, and they have played three teams which have been ranked in the top 10 in the state at some point this season. Three weeks ago, the Eagles played the No. 10 ranked Tigers of Stockbridge to a 15-14 game. The Knights lost to Stockbridge two weeks prior by a 13-3 score.
“Their record does not reflect the type of athletes they have,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “They are your typical Clayton County school, big, fast, and athletic. They have played some really good teams to some close ball games. We are going to have to play a very good game in order to escape with a victory. They should be bigger and faster than us at just about every position.”
Last week the Knights held Spalding to only 17 total yards in the second half of the game. The Knights have been hurt by the “big plays” so far in 2012, not really giving up points on long sustained drives. The “big play” is something that Defensive Coordinator Steve Chafin says the Knights defense can’t afford to give up in tonight’s game.
“Last week our offense maintained the ball for much of the game,” said Chafin. “Spalding only ran 37 plays last week, which is the fewest plays we have allowed in over three years. It helps when the offense is rolling like that. Early in the year the big plays came from the youth on our defense, but we are staring to limit those types of plays. We are not what I would call a fast defense, but we are beginning to play the game much faster.”
North Clayton offensively has shown multiple formations, including the Wing-T, I-Formation, and the spread, but according to Chafin no matter which formation they show, they have the same goal in mind.
“They want to create leverage against the defense with multiple formations,” said Chafin. “Their main goal is to get the ball to the outside via the sweep. They have a committee of running backs, and they try to get them into open space on the perimeter. They are big and fast up front. They have a tight end who is about 6’6” and a couple of offensive tackles that look to be about 6’4”, and we have to make sure we turn the sweep back inside. That’s the most important thing we need to do tonight. We also can’t allow their quarterback to scramble out of the pocket. If we can create some turnovers and turn their sweep inside, we give ourselves a chance to be successful.”
Defensively the Eagles play a 3-3-5 defense, which is the same defense the Knights saw last week against Spalding, but according to Offensive Coordinator Gus Condon, the defense they see this week will look a little different.
“They run the same defense as the team we saw last week, but this team looks to be much bigger and quite a bit faster,” said Condon. “They have a couple of linebackers who can really run to the ball and make tackles. Their front seven has a lot of size, and we need another offensive performance like we had last week to be successful. When our offensive line has a good night, typically we have a good night as an offensive group. It’s been made real clear to the guys by Coach Watson on the importance of this game, so I expect our guys to come out ready to play. A fast start to the game offensively is key for us tonight.”
The Knights offense has scored more points in this season through five games, than they did all of last season in 11 games. The Knights have two players, Corey Moss (156 yards per game) and K. D. Pennyman (108 yards per game), averaging over 100 yards rushing per game, and Moss already has 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2012.
“This season we are able to get some production from our tight ends,” said Condon. “We didn’t use them as much last season, but C. J. Kirschmann and Ben Barber have really stepped up at that position. Good tight end play allows us to set up the defense in different ways. Plus, the kids have bought into our system, and the play of freshman running back K. D. Pennyman has taken some of the pressure off of Moss. Those I think are the biggest reasons for the turn around offensively.”
The Knights and the Eagles will battle tonight at Matthews Field, with a spot in the Region 4 cross over games on the line for the Knights. A victory in the cross over game, assures the Knights of a trip to the state playoffs for a second year in a row, but first the Knights need to get a win tonight against the Eagles. Kick-off for tonight’s game is slated for 7:30 p.m.