Garner Cleveland: Sports

Battle-tested Comets prevail

Clayton’s Blake Joyner (32) pulls away from Southeast’s Jabari Davis (8).
Clayton’s Blake Joyner (32) pulls away from Southeast’s Jabari Davis (8).

The Clayton football team doesn’t mind getting into a battle and, quite frankly, they might not know how to play any other way.

In the Comets’ 41-38 road victory over Southeast Raleigh Friday night in the final week of the regular season, the Comets felt right at home trading shots with another worthy adversary coming out on the right end of the score after the lead switched sides five different times.

“This team has battled like this all year long,” Clayton coach Randy Pinkowski said. “So to come out here and be in this ebb and flow battle, it didn’t bother me. I felt like we have been in so many of these battles, that the kids are experienced, they’re ready for it and they know what to expect.”

Senior quarterback Eric Hoy helped the Comets erase an early 14-point deficit and led Clayton with 270 yards on 37 carries and 51 more yards in the air and he was forced to out-duel Dylan Parham, the Bulldogs’ junior signal caller who had a jaw-dropping game of his own.

Parham threw for 268 yards in the air and three touchdowns while also running for 68 yards and two more scores in a classic battle between two evenly matched teams.

“It was a pleasure to be a part of it,” Southeast Raleigh coach Michael Thibodeau said. “From our end of things, the seniors are hurting right now. Being a part of that game though, I know these kids, down the road, will look back and remember this game.”

The win gave Clayton (6-5, 3-4 Greater Neuse River Conference) better positioning in the at large field for the 4A state playoff picture.

Parham’s 19-yard scramble that ended with him tip-toeing the sideline and just finding the end zone gave Southeast Raleigh (4-7, 3-4) the 32-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Hoy countered on Clayton’s ensuing drive, coming up with a key third down conversion on a scintillating 44-yard run in which he made four different potential tacklers miss and set the Comets up at the Southeast Raleigh nine-yard line.

Hoy scored his third rushing touchdown of the night on the next play.

Daniel Alioto gave the visitors a 41-32 lead four minutes later after the Bulldogs were denied on fourth down deep in their own end of the field.

Undeterred, Parham rallied the troops one last time, finding Voshon Jones for a 44-yard pass before finding pay dirt himself from two yards out two plays later with just three seconds left in the contest.

The Bulldogs’ onside kick attempt ricocheted once before Clayton’s Dakota Deal jumped on top of the ball, ensuring the lead would not change hands any more.

“They didn’t quit; they fought back.” said Thibodeau. “That’s going to help us going forward whether it’s next week or next season. We’ll be in better shape because of it.”

Pinkowski, whose team dropped three of its games this year by a combined eight points, pointed to the execution of his team and the performances of many different players being instrumental in the victory.

Rodney Rowe, in just his second game back from an injury, gave the Comets their first lead of the game in the third quarter when he came up with an interception and raced 25 yards to the end zone and six points.

Deal, in addition to coming up with the ball in the final seconds on the onside kick, made a key potential touchdown-saving tackle on special teams earlier in the quarter.

Aaron Boykin, a backup offensive lineman, was part of a tremendous effort put forth by the Clayton ground attack.

“I wouldn’t know how to coach one of these games where you come out and you’re the front runner,” Pinkowski said. “I just think that we’ve been hit in the mouth, we’ve come out and hit people. We’re battle-scarred and ready now and I think that’s what it’s taken.”