Clayton and Knightdale open the football playoffs with a rematch

tstevens@newsobserver.comNovember 2, 2012 

Knightdale football coach Rob Senseney and Gary Fowler, his Clayton counterpart, ordinarily would have spent a lot of time this week studying game tapes in order to prepare for Friday’s first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association football playoffs.

But Fowler didn’t bother.

His team defeated Knightdale, its first-round foe, last week 42-21.

“I’ve never experienced this before,” Fowler said. “You usually don’t play the same team back to back in football.”

The N.C. High School Athletic Association began clustering football playoff teams into pods in 2010. The pods were designed to reduce travel, and they have. But they also made rematches common because teams tend to schedule other teams in their area during the regular season.

Friday night’s first-round rematches include Athens Drive at Garner, Wake Forest-Rolesville at Wakefield, Green Hope at Fuquay-Varina and Heritage at Leesville Road in 4AA.

And in a few cases, teams open the playoffs against the same team they closed the regular season against. That’s the case with Knightdale and Clayton in the 4A East and Southern Nash and Wilson Hunt in the 3AA Mideast.

“The pod is what it is,” Wake Forest-Rolesville coach Reggie Lucas said. “This isn’t the first year that we’ve had it and when the season began we knew there were going to be rematches in the playoffs. At this point, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing Wakefield or whoever. We’re excited to be in the playoffs. We’re excited to be playing. The coaches are excited to be coaching. We’re all excited and looking forward to having the chance to play another game.”

Preparing to play the same team in back-to-back weeks could turn into a guessing game.

Clayton ran for 414 yards against a Knightdale defense that had not allowed more than 223 rushing yards in any other game. It also held four teams to 100 yards rushing or less.

Fowler expects Knightdale to make defensive adjustments but said he doesn’t plan to make changes based on what he suspects Knightdale might do.

“We’ve got to do what we do,” Fowler said. “I am a whole lot more concerned with what Clayton is doing than I am with what Knightdale might do.”

Senseney said he saw Clayton executing its Wing-T offense at a high level on tape. He’ll make some adjustments, but mostly focus on his team playing better than it did a week ago.

“I’m putting the onus on them to be ready to play,” he said. “If they aren’t excited to have Knightdale back in the playoffs for the first time in a long time, then there is something wrong.”

Wake Forest’s Lucas said his team will make adjustments and attempt to come out stronger than it did in a 33-19 loss against Wakefield earlier this year, “but we’re not throwing away our playbook,” he said.

Wakefield coach Rod Sink anticipates Wake Forest will make some changes.

“But we don’t know what they are going to change,” Sink said. “As a coaching staff, we’re preparing to play our rival.”

The Wakefield coaches have reminded their players every day this week about how good Wake Forest-Rolesville is.

“We were not mentally prepared when we played Leesville Road and laid an egg (in a 52-24 loss),” Sink said. “If we aren’t really focused, we’ll be in trouble again.”

Leesville Road coach Chad Smother expects his unbeaten team to be mentally ready to play Heritage, which gave Leesville its closest game of the season before falling 17-14.

“We have to execute better,” Smothers said. “Heritage just played simple hard-nosed football against us.

“On defense, it is assignment based. We played great defense on 50 plays against Heritage. However, on four plays we made minor mistakes and that ends being 14 points versus an option team. So, 50 of 54 ain’t good enough against a team like Heritage.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Garner coach Nelson Smith has focused his undefeated club’s attention on how much Athens Drive has improved since the Trojans beat the Jaguars 42-7 during the second week of the season.

“All we had to do is show our guys the tapes of Athens’ other games,” said Thurman Leach, the Garner defensive coordinator. “Other than our game, all of their losses have been by less than a touchdown. Middle Creek beat it by five. Fuquay beat it by four. Athens is an outstanding team.”

Garner is undefeated and No. 1 in The N&O rankings, but that means little now, Leach said.

“All we have is 48 minutes,” said Leach, referring to four 12-minute quarters. “Our season now is 48 minutes long. That’s all we’re guaranteed. We need to play hard during those 48 minutes.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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