CLAYTON — Gary Fowler claimed there was something in the air Friday night as his Comets took the field for the final time in the regular season under the coach who announced his retirement at the end of the season earlier this week.
As usual in Clayton, it wasn’t the football. Well, except when Comet running backs were tossing the ball to the referee after a touchdown run.
Clayton (8-3, 6-1) ran for 414 yards and rolled by Knightdale with ease, 42-21, to wrap up second place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference and likely another home date in the playoffs next week.
“I saw something in them during our walk through this afternoon,” Fowler said. “I didn’t say anything about myself to start the season because I didn’t want this year to be about me. I wanted the kids to be focused on football. They showed us they are tonight, beating a good Knightdale football team.”
Senior Ced Harris ran for touchdowns the first two times he touched the ball, from 30 and 39 yards out, respectively.
But it was fellow seniors Jace Brown and Tamerick Barbour doing most of the damage on the ground. Brown, the Comets’ fullback, churned for a career-high 166 yards on 17 carries. Barbour put up 153 yards on 10 carries.
“Jace is our pounder,” Fowler said. “When we’re able to get all three of those guys going, it’s a great thing to see.”
The trio, operating out of Clayton’s wing-T attack, took advantage of big block after big block from the offensive line, with senior guard Connor Barbour and junior center Gabe Lewis often leading the way.
Clayton led 21-0 after Harris’ two TD runs and a 70-yard TD pass from Sam May to Anthony Gaskins. But Knightdale, which finishes third in the conference, came back with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Marquavious Johnson to Daquan Lilly to get within 21-7.
But as it would all night, the Comets’ offense had a quick response. Gaskins returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards, setting up a one-play drive – a 47-yard touchdown run by Barbour, and Clayton led 28-7 at the break.
Clayton opened the second half with a three-play TD drive, capped by Barbour’s second TD run of the evening, from 18 yards.
The Comets’ defense limited Knightdale to 78 yards in the first half and 201 on the night. Brown rounded out Clayton’s scoring with a 10-yard run late in the third quarter.
Knightdale picked up TD runs from Johnson and Nathaniel Harvey in the second half.
Harris finished with 94 yards rushing on just 10 carries.