El Dorado News

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December 16, 2017
El Dorado News Times
Terrance Armstard/News-Times Junction City's DaQuann Ford (21), Fred Daniel (55), Nathan Tucker (56), Jvacye Cook (20) and Brock McGoogan (18) lead a swarm of defenders trying to bring down Drew Central's Travarus Shead during their 6-3A contest earlier this month at David Carpenter Stadium. Tonight, Junction City hosts Clinton in a clash of undefeated teams in the 3A quarterfinals. Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Junction City.

Terrance Armstard/News-Times Junction City's DaQuann Ford (21), Fred Daniel (55), Nathan Tucker (56), Jvacye Cook (20) and Brock McGoogan (18) lead a swarm of defenders trying to bring down Drew Central's Travarus Shead during their 6-3A contest earlier this month at David Carpenter Stadium. Tonight, Junction City hosts Clinton in a clash of undefeated teams in the 3A quarterfinals. Game time is set for 7 p.m. from Junction City.

Perfection collides

Junction City, Clinton to meet in quarterfinals

This article was published November 24, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

By Jason Avery

News-Times Staff

With Thanksgiving trimmings having been partaken, it’s time for two of the remaining four undefeated teams in 3A to get down to business.

Tonight, Junction City plays host to Clinton in a showdown of perfect teams in the 3A quarterfinals.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. from David Carpenter Stadium.

The game is the first between the schools.

The Yellow Jackets (12-0), who are the champions of the 1-3A, are in the quarterfinals for the second time in school history.

Clinton reached the quarterfinals back in 2014 as a 4A school, and the 12 wins the Yellow Jackets have is the most in school history.

They knocked off Fouke (55-20) and Haskell Harmony Grove (48-42) to reach the third round.

The Dragons (11-0), the 6-3A champions, survived Harding Academy 31-30 last week after having a first-round bye.

After reaching the quarterfinals in 2014, the Yellow Jackets won only two games in 2015 before dropping to the 3A ranks.

Last year, Clinton went 8-3, falling to Centerpoint in the first round of the playoffs.

However, the 2017 Yellow Jackets surpassed the 2005 team as the winningest in school history with their win last week, and they have their sights on making the deepest postseason run in school history.

“We had a team make it to the quarterfinals a few years ago, and this team is trying to get past that,” said Clinton coach Chris Dufrene, who is in his 16th year at the school. “They want to beat all of the records that Clinton teams have done. It’s been a real team effort on both sides of the ball, probably the best group team that I’ve had. They’re definitely focused and are excited about the opportunity to try to do it.”

The Yellow Jackets have stayed perfect thanks to a diverse running game out of the Wing-T that has six players with over 300 yards rushing this season.

Sophomore quarterback Weston Amos guides the Yellow Jackets, ranking second on the team in rushing yards with 641 and nine rushing touchdowns while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 880 yards with 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Last week, he rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries along with 25 yards passing.

“He’s done extremely well,” Dufrene said. “Just being a sophomore on top of that, he’s had to learn a little bit early in the year as far as speed of the game goes. He’s a dual-threat guy. He runs it and he can throw it. I love those kind where you can put pressure on the defense where they’ve got to contain him, yet he can still throw it.”

Junction City head coach Steven Jones concurred.

“He’s a sophomore and he’s been a very dependable player for them,” Jones said. “He doesn’t put the ball on the ground. He takes care of it. He’s very versatile. They don’t throw it a lot, but when they do, he’s very sharp in the passing game, so we’ll definitely need to focus and be dialed in to have an answer when they try to get out on bootlegs and quarterback runs and things like that.”

Junior Sky Davidson leads the Yellow Jackets with 650 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and Dufrene lauded his toughness.

“He’s probably one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,” Dufrene said.

“He is a hard-nosed kid that never comes off the field, never gets tired. He’s one of those that you love to coach. He’s a tough, tough kid.”

Jones added that Davidson will be one of several players the Dragons will have to focus on.

“He’s their bruising-type back,” Jones said. “He plays that fullback spot. In the Wing-T offense, they usually put a big, physical linebacker-type kid at that spot, and he does a good job on traps. He’s also their lead blocker when they run with those other guys.

“They spread the ball to a lot of different people, so we’ve got to have good focus on where we think they’re trying to attack.”

In addition to Amos and Davidson, sophomores Ethen Drake (620 yards, six touchdowns) and John Riley Hinchey (589 yards, eight touchdowns) and junior Caleb Bowman (324 yards, team-leading 12 touchdowns) all have had solid seasons.

Bowman topped the century mark in last week’s win, finishing with 110 yards and four touchdowns.

Senior Charleston Sowell has 461 yards rushing with seven touchdowns, and he is also Clinton’s leading receiver, tallying 12 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns.

“He is very versatile,” Dufrene said. “He’s one of those that if you see him off the field, he doesn’t look like a football player, but he’s a really gutsy kid and a smart football player. He’s got a high IQ as far as football goes.”

Jones added that Sowell is a player that the Dragons will have to keep contained.

“He’s more of their elusive player,” Jones said. “He can catch and run a little bit. He’s a good player in space. If you give that guy a little bit of room, he’s very shifty and makes very good cuts. He’s really good at making one cut and then getting back downhill. He does a good job of once he has the ball of finding that crease and getting positive yards.”

When asked what team Clinton reminded him of, Jones mentioned another school that is still alive in the 3A postseason.

“Schematically, they remind me of McGehee,” Jones said. “I don’t think they have the team speed that McGehee has, but they’re very physical in what they do. They have good skill guys in the backfield, but scheme-wise, they’re a lot like McGehee.”

Jones added that having seen the Wing-T several times will help his defense in their preparations.

“I think so,” Jones said. “I think it gives us an idea of what they want to do, and we’ve prepared for teams like this before, so our kids are pretty comfortable with what exactly we do against that look.

“They’re very balanced. When you commit to running the ball as much they do, you have to be able to do different things with it, so we need to read our keys and stay focused on not getting lost in space.”

Having that depth in the backfield allows Dufrene to rest his two-way players for defense.

“Most of them do, and that was kind of our deal at the beginning of the year,” Dufrene said. “We were going to rest them on offense and save them for defense.

“We’ve kind of spread them out and let them rest while we were on offense and be rested for defense.”

Defensively, Bowman leads the Yellow Jackets with 100 tackles, while Davidson paces Clinton with 11 1/2 tackles for a loss. Junior Cort Bagley leads the team with 2 1/2 sacks.

Interestingly, Clinton runs a defensive scheme that is very similar to Junction City’s.

“They’re an odd front. They play a lot of cover four,” Jones said. “I expected them to show us a couple of different looks back there, but they play a version of what we see every day with our defense. It’s kind of a similar scheme to what we run defensively, so going into that, that’s a little bit of an advantage too, because that’s something we see every day.”

A huge key to success for Clinton’s defense has been their ability to create turnovers. Overall, the Yellow Jackets have intercepted 22 passes and recovered 11 fumbles.

Drake leads the team with six interceptions, while Sowell and senior Nate Lonnon have five apiece.

“They play as a team,” Dufrene said. “We work on the game plan all week, and they execute it really well. We’ve been very opportunistic as far as turnovers go. We have a lot of interceptions and fumble recoveries, so when that happens, good things are going to happen.”

Turnovers and penalties have been a troublesome spot for the Dragons, and it cropped up again last week against Harding Academy.

“Turnovers and penalties have kind of been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Jones said. “If we want to keep playing a few more weeks, we’ve definitely got to take care of both of those things.”

Jones also wasn’t pleased with the play of the offensive line.

“Our pad level with our offensive line wasn’t very good,” Jones said. “We challenged them to do a better job of that. We’ve got to be able to move bodies out of there and establish that run game.”

Against the Wildcats, the Dragons ran 92 plays on offense, totaling 551 yards of total offense.

According to the The National Federation of State High School Associations, the 92 plays the Dragons ran last week places them in a tie for the third most ever to be run in a high school game.

Yet the Dragons didn’t take the lead for good until Hishmma Taylor’s successful two-point conversion run that followed the senior’s 17-yard touchdown run on Junction City’s sixth successful fourth-down conversion with 1:13 left in the game.

“Our kids are so resilient,” Jones said. “You can look in that locker room, and it was kind of the same look that we saw in their eyes against Smackover.

“They didn’t like the performance they had in the first half, and you could see they were chomping at the bit to get back out there in that third and fourth quarter and play.

“We just continued to do as much we could, and our guys got after it. At the end of the day, we won the game with effort. We snapped the ball so many times. We ran 92 plays offensively, and to see our guys fight snap after snap and just compete was a real telltale sign that we have a championship-caliber club.”

Senior quarterback Shuvasceiaye Frazier was just 8-of-20 passing for 100 yards with an interception, but he had a huge game running the ball, finishing with 267 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.

On defense, the senior intercepted a pass in the end zone that turned out to be a huge play in the game.

“Shuvasceiaye Frazier is a big-time player,” Jones said. “He stepped up and took over. We’re very blessed to have a couple of guys like that on our team that when the competition gets as tough as it is in the playoffs and in big games, somebody steps up, and Friday, it was Shuvasceiaye.

“The couple of turnovers that we had, it was a kid just trying to make a play. He was trying to do too much with it, but the effort that he gives, you really can’t be too frustrated with that.

“You don’t want to give the ball back to the other team, but the way he’s fighting and competing out there, it’s fun to watch.”

Junction City’s defense opened the scoring last week when Jalen Davis intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, and the unit also had the final say on matters in the game, as Dhante Gibson stripped the ball from Harding Academy quarterback Davis Morgan, and Terrell Gibson recovered the fumble to seal the victory.

“They’ve played with their backs against the wall all season with what we do,” Jones said. “We’ve put them in binds with field position, and they step up and make plays and that’s why we continue to do that.

“There’s a couple of times on fourth down where we gave them a short field, and we got out of it because of our defense. The way that coach (Brad) Smith has them prepared each week, and the linebacker play was outstanding. We did something not a lot of people have done against Harding Academy, we played more man coverage. The way that they kept playing and getting out of binds with their backs against the wall was a great thing to see.”

Junction City also got a huge lift from junior Jack Smith, who drilled a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter to tie the game.

“We were down three points at that time, and we had a timeout,” Jones said.

“I asked Jack, ‘Can you make this field goal?’ He said, ‘You bet.’ He booted one and tied it up. That was a big-time play.”

Smith’s field goal also gives Jones another option should the opportunity arise.

“Definitely,” Jones said. “It was on the right hash, which is a very tough kick for a right-footed kicker.

“It’s just a confidence thing. From the right hash, he missed four out of five in warm-ups, and to look him in the eye and ask, ‘Hey, are you going to make this kick?’

“His confidence was just overflowing, so we had to give him a shot, and he tied the game. Going down the road, that’s something big to have.”

The Yellow Jackets advanced by outlasting Haskell Harmony Grove 48-42, and Dufrene was pleased to win the seesaw affair.

“It was definitely a shootout,” Dufrene said. “We thought we were going to get ahead and get a couple of touchdowns ahead, and they would just fight right back and either tie it up or get a touchdown behind. That is a lot of credit to their kids. They never gave up. That was a big win for us because it was 12 wins, which a Clinton team has never done.”

Both schools are playing in the third week of the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and playing the day after Thanksgiving is a big accomplishment.

“Definitely. Any time you get to play football Thanksgiving week, it means you’ve got a chance to make a run,” Jones said.

“Being able to get to that point is something that as a program, you want to do every year, but you don’t want to be satisfied. We talked to our kids about that. We make it to the quarterfinals, and we get to play Thanksgiving football, but the end goal is to continue to play into December.”

For the Yellow Jackets to have to success, their offensive line must continue to pave the way for the bevy of running backs they feature.

“Our offensive line has done a really good job of blocking,” Dufrene said. “We’ve got multiple guys that can run the ball, so we’re not one-dimensional.”

For the Dragons, trying to counter Clinton’s Wing-T along with curbing turnovers (three last week) and penalties (21 for 195 yards last week) will be paramount to their success.

“They’re undefeated and they’ve had an awesome year so far,” Jones said. “They’re a Wing-T team. They throw the football only about four times a game, so they’re a ground-and-pound-type team, and they do a really good job at it.

“They have about three or four running backs that they equally distribute the ball to, so we have to do a great job of being ready for all of those different backs and all of those different looks they are going to give us.

“We’ve got to take care of the football and cut down on penalties.”

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