Red Devils go to playoffs with a road win
RIGHT NOW: 41-21 Clinton WINS. Red Devils have played all season to get here – “Win and you’re in”
It’s a game the Clinton Red Devils have owned the last two seasons. It’s also a game that can somewhat salvage Woodruff’s injury-decimated season.
This Friday, the 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Willie Varner Stadium in Woodruff will signal the start of a struggle between two teams that wanted more from the 2017 season. Clinton finds itself in that familiar sports spot, “Win and you’re in.” If Woodruff wins, three teams tie, with one region win each, for the final Region 3 AAA playoff spot. Then, it comes down to defensive points allowed.
Going into this Friday’s game, Clinton has one region win, against Mid-Carolina.
Mid-Carolina has one region win, against Woodruff.
Woodruff has no region wins – if the Wolverines can beat Clinton, that’s their first.
The top three spots from this region are set: Chapman, Newberry and Broome, barring a major upset, or two (Chapman-Broome, Newberry-Mid-Carolina, regular season finales).
Clinton lost to Woodruff in 2014, 35-14. Clinton has won the last two games against the Wolverines. Last season’s game had region implications, the 2015 and 2014 games were non-region contests. When re-alignment comes around in 2018, Clinton and Woodruff will remain region opponents. Chapman and Broome out; Emerald and Union County in Region 3.
Seems like forever, Clinton-Woodruff has meant something – bragging rights or region placements.
These are looks at the past three games in the series:
2016 - Clinton scores 8 in OT: Clinton will travel to an opponent it knows to open the Class AAA state playoffs next week after a 32-24 win Friday over Woodruff earned the Red Devils third place in Region 3.The win punches the Red Devils ticket Nov. 18 to travel to Chester, taking on the resurgent Cyclones of Region 4. SC High School League realignment took Chester out of Clinton’s region starting this season, but the two programs have met for many years. Clinton won 22-17 in regular season action last year against Chester. The Cyclones are on an up-tick at 8-2 overall this season. That is the future for Clinton. Red Devils fans have an off week this Friday to reflect on the immediate past. The win over Woodruff levels Clinton’s overall record at 5-5. The Red Devils are the hottest team in the region right now, going 4-2 over their last six games. Defeating the Wolverines for the second straight season, Clinton jumped out to an early lead, weathered a Woodruff comeback, and scored eight points in overtime to win.
Clinton’s defense saved its two best plays for Woodruff’s first two plays of OT, sacking elusive sophomore quarterback Keegan Halloran twice. That set up a third and 27 for Woodruff in their part of overtime. After a pass completion, Woodruff threw a ball in to the end zone, broken up by Clinton’s Sincere Hunt.
On Woodruff’s first scoring attempt. Hunt broke up a pass after the Wolverines had it first and goal on the Clinton four. The ball was tipped into the hands of Clinton’s Jay Thomas who came away with the threat-ending interception.
Clinton football head coach Andrew Webb said for Hunt, it came down to experience.
“Sincere Hunt on (Woodruff senior) Keith Pearson. Sincere knew the ball had to go to the end zone. He got out of the break, went and got it (broke up the pass).”
Webb said a deciding difference in the game was the Clinton pass rush. “The biggest plays of the game were (Woodruff’s) first two of overtime.” The win put Clinton, Chapman and Woodruff all at 3-2 in region play. The Clinton win gives the Red Devils third place, and Woodruff fourth.
Clinton started the scoring with Mark Wise’s 60-yard touchdown sprint, 5:39 left in the first quarter. Elvis Fitz hit a 25-yard field goal, and Wise ran it in again from four yards out for Clinton’s 17-0 second quarter lead. Wise ran for 96 yards on 12 carries.
Woodruff scored the next three touchdowns, all through the air, and added a 24-yard field goal.
Clinton trailed 24-17 with 6:07 left in the third quarter. Woodruff would not score again. It became the Koko Richey show. Clinton’s powerful senior runningback (18 carries for 72 yards) plowed over from three yards out late in the third quarter. The drive was aided by an unusual double penalty on the same play - personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct - against Woodruff. After Fitz’s third successful kick (two PATs and a field goal), Richey sealed the win in overtime with a 10-yard run and a two-point conversion run, both right up the gut of the Woodruff defense.
Webb almost over-coached the moment. “One play, 10 yards and we scored, so we called the identical play knowing they wouldn’t have time to adjust. Then, they shifted, and I ran out to call a timeout. The official didn’t see me.”
2015 - Runnin’ Red Devils: Winning puts a spring in your step, but Gene Simmons took it to an extreme.
To get from the visitors press box to an on-field interview with Friday’s winning coach, Simmons vaulted a fence on the visitor’s side of Willie Varner Stadium. He was intent on getting to Clinton football head coach Andrew Webb after the Devils 32-13 road win, the team’s first road game of the season.
Simmons, the executive director of the Clinton Family YMCA and on-field reporter for WPCC, is not old, but he’s past middle age. A mid-air flight ought to be a think-twice decision. The railing is not too high where the visitors sit – from there to the field below, however, is more than six feet.
“I wish there had been a camera around. I don’t know what he was thinking!” said his wife Clovis, CHS teacher and tennis coach. The excitement of the Red Devil fans, with Simmons’ leap an extreme example, could not be contained post-game on the field.
The Clinton team was about to kneel for prayer, their common post-game practice, but Webb made them move. He did not want them taking a knee on Woodruff’s mid-field. That sends the wrong message.
“We got to the end of the first half with a chance to finish. We needed to execute and we did. Kris Holmes ran great. We just called 36 and 33 power over and over and over. The line was outstanding, fantastic blocking by those guys,” Webb said. “It’s easy to call plays when you don’t have to call different plays.”
An interception by Sincere Hunt prevented Woodruff from scoring, and extending a 13-12 lead, at the end of the first half.
An interception by Donovan Blackmon (although turned back over deep in Woodruff territory when an official ruled a fumble) put the Wolverines so far away from the Clinton end zone they couldn’t score a make-the-score-closer touchdown late in the game.
“The interception at the end of the first half was a big stop, a great play by Sincere Hunt,” Webb said. “That kept it a one-point game rather than seven.”
Clinton dominated the second half. Its defense kept Woodruff out of the end zone. Blackmon scored three touchdowns from late in the first half through mid-fourth quarter, and Holmes pounded a final TD into the end zone. Jay Fuller threw to Bowen Tiller for a touchdown, and Tay Cook added a two-point conversion after the final touchdown. Clinton still cannot convert kicks after touchdowns, or threaten with field goals, and a couple of its two-point tries were unsuccessful – one, a Blackmon jump pass, and another had the ball breaking the goal line but the runner was ruled down. But it hardly mattered. Once Clinton started blocking and running, Woodruff had no answer. The defensive line bottled up reserve quarterback Keegan Halloran, who threw four TD passes in the first half of his first game running the offense.
Woodruff had blocked a late field goal and had crucial defensive stands to win two close games starting the 2015 season. The Wolverines now are 2-1, Clinton is 2-2 with wins over A.C. Flora and Woodruff, and loses to Greer and Newberry, all four made the state playoffs in 2014.
Assessing his team after consecutive losses, Webb told the Laurens County Touchdown Club at lunch Friday, “We are making mistakes, things we can correct.”
Check off the “correcting mistakes” box in the coaching staff’s to-do list. “We will enjoy this tonight,” Webb said, “and right away get ready for Laurens.”
2014 - Red Devils fumble, lighting strikes: Rain, thunder and lightning rolled over Wilder Stadium Friday, then lightning and fog made their presence known Saturday at the Red Devils football home.
In between all that, Clinton and Woodruff got to play the renewal of a long-standing rivalry for the teams, a 35-14 win for the visiting Wolverines.
The game – once an important region contest, now because of SC High School League realignment a non-conference, but still spirited contest – was played Saturday night following a two-hour lightning delay, because conditions Friday were too unsafe for players and spectators. Then, right at the end of the third quarter Saturday, fog settled in over Wilder Stadium giving the contest a ghostly Halloween feel. By the time the game ended and fans, players and coaches left Richardson Field it was nearly midnight.
Clinton had a good first half in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams. Then, the second half was all Woodruff. It is a familiar theme for the 0-4 Red Devils, who struggle to score points in the second half. In 2013, Clinton football started its season 0-6, and made the state playoffs.
“We have one more (game), then one off, then the ones that count,” (former) Clinton football head coach Scott King said. Clinton plays host to Laurens this Friday, then has a bye week, the reward for playing a game (against A.C. Flora in Columbia) a week before most high school teams started play on Aug. 29.
The bye week, Sept. 26, will help the Red Devils nurse some injuries back to health and map out a strategy for tackling a region schedule that includes newcomers to the region Lancaster and South Pointe, Rock Hill. Following the 2-hour delay Saturday, Clinton found the end zone first on a 50-yard Tay Cook punt return for a touchdown. Woodruff struck back with an 80-yard pitch and catch score coming on a 3rd and 23 from deep in Wolverine territory.
Clinton put together a long, sustained drive for its second and final score of the game. Tashymen Boyd, sophomore running back, found the end zone bullying through the Woodruff defensive line for the touchdown. Clinton added the 2-point conversion for a 14-7 lead with 4:27 until halftime.
The next play Woodruff returned the kickoff to the Clinton 38, setting up the Wolverines for a shot at the end zone before halftime. Woodruff drove to the Clinton 8-yard line with 56 seconds left, and on 1st and goal, the Wolverines hit a touchdown pass and the Red Devils were hit with pass interference.
The touchdown and PAT knotted the score at 14, and the penalty was assessed on the kickoff, resulting in a Woodruff touchback. With 8:38 left in the 3rd quarter, Clinton suffered the first of a string of 2nd half fumbles that would be its undoing. Woodruff did not score after the turnover, but it was a sign of things to come for the Red Devils. Woodruff had a TD pass called back for holding, another TD pass called back for offensive pass interference and punted, then lightning struck – figuratively. Woodruff recovered a fumble in Clinton territory with 5:38 left in the 3rd quarter, pushed the ball to a 4th and goal on the Clinton 2 and hit a TD pass for the score.
The next Clinton fumble came on the ensuing offensive possession and was run back for a touchdown. The game that was 14 all at halftime became 28-14 Woodruff with a 3 minutes left to play before the end of the 3rd quarter.
The quarter ended, the fog rolled in and Woodruff recovered a Clinton fumble with 9:18 left to play and threw a pass for a touchdown capping the evening’s scoring. Woodruff snuffed out a Clinton drive with a 4th down fumble recovery at the 5:42 mark, taking over at midfield and running out the clock.
This Friday: Directions from Clinton High School: Hwy 72 east to I-26 west, take I-26 to exit 38, Hwy 146 toward Woodruff, the high school is at 710 Cross Anchor Rd.; 22 miles, one-way approximately 25 minutes.