CLAYTON — There have always been plenty of carries to go around for running backs at Clayton.
And in Randy Pinkowski’s first year as the Comets’ coach, they’re keeping up the tradition. Clayton’s ground attack was far too good for Harnett Central in the teams’ Greater Neuse River 4A Conference opener Friday night, as they rushed for 396 yards on 48 carries in a 49-7 romp over the Trojans.
Clayton improved to 5-1 with its fourth straight win in the series while Harnett Central fell to 1-4.
Rodney Rowe carried 11 times for 169 yards and a touchdown for Clayton, while Eric Hoy carried nine times for 146 yards and two scores. Jace Brown, who also plays middle linebacker, scored three short touchdowns.
“We’re not close to where I’d like to be yet, particularly throwing the ball,” Pinkowski said. “But we’ve got a bunch of backs who very rarely touched the ball last year. We told them ‘Hey, they’ve got 10 guys in the box and you’re not going to break a lot of big runs. Stay behind your blocker, get your yardage, and get up and play the next down and we can move the chains.’
“I liked what I saw defensively. We were a little soft on the edge initially, but in the second half we were able to put a stop to the option.”
Blake Joyner had two interceptions for the Comets, who held Harnett Central to 167 yards total offense. And Nick Christensen kept pounding kicks into the end zone for touchbacks, giving the visitors a long field to play on most of the night.
“I thought our effort was good,” said Central coach Dave Thomas, who reassumed the reins this season after previously coaching the Trojans in 2000 and ’01. “It’s just a process of doing what we’re doing and getting the kids to buy into it.
“We had four sophomores on the defensive line for one point. We’ve got to get in the weight room and get stronger. I think Clayton is a real solid football team, good on defense and offense, and their kicking game is good. They’re where we want to get to.”
The Comets led 39-7 at the half behind 288 yards total offense, all on the ground.
Clayton wasted no time scoring on its first possession. After the Trojans’ opening onside kick went out of bounds the Comets took four plays to go 55 yards, with Brown bulling in from two yards out. Brown’s touchdown came on the first play after a 50-yard run from Hoy.
“It was a great team effort,” Brown said. “Everybody did their job and we came out with a win. We did what the coaches wanted us to do on defense. We executed.”
Hoy got his own touchdown two possessions later, going in from 10 yards out with 7 minutes, 5 seconds left in the first to complete a five-play, 42-yard drive.
“Our line was fantastic on every block,” Hoy said. “I just followed through the holes. I trust everybody on this team with my life. I’ll follow them to the end of the earth if I have to.”
The Comets made it 19-0 with 10:55 left in the half as Brown going in from a yard out. Nick Christiansen added the conversion kick.
Harnett Central took advantage of a mistake to get on the board just over two minutes later. After Wes Hayes recovered a Sam May fumble at the Comet 36. Two plays later Jalynn Bass scored from two yards out.
But the Comets were a scoring machine for the rest of the half, with Brown going left for a 10-yard score at 5:48, Rowe going in from 13 at 3:09 and Hoy scampering in from 35 with 7.9 seconds left.
“We got amazing blocking all night,” Rowe said. “And our defense kept getting us the ball back all night long.”
Clayton’s second-half scores came on a 2-yard run from Von McFarland in the third quarter and Christiansen’s 32-yard field goal in the fourth.