Rodney Rowe made a triumphant return to action for Clayton on Friday night as the Comets used a balanced offense to escape Knightdale, 32-28.
The win improved the Comets to 4-2, 1-1 in Greater Neuse River 4A action while Knightdale fell to 2-4 and 0-2.
The senior Rowe, who had been out of the lineup since suffering a broken collarbone in practice on Aug. 11, carried 24 times for 129 yards and two TDs in the victory.
Blake Joyner also scored twice for Clayton, once on a 27-yard pass from Eric Hoy and once on a five-yard run with 5:48 left that proved to be the clincher.
Hoy finished with 185 yards total offense including 126 passing yards on 9-for-14, while Joyner caught eight passes for 59 yards and rushed four times for 52.
“I was cleared medically last week, but Coach (Randy Pinkowski) wanted me to sit out and make sure everything was looking good,” Rowe said. “It was amazing being out here with my boys. The offensive line blocked great and the defense did a wonderful job.”
Four players scored rushing touchdowns for the Knights, one in each quarter. The Knights rushed for 246 yards and the four TDs, but completed only two short passes all night.
Joshua Schenck was Knightdale’s rushing leader with 57 yards and a TD on seven carries.
Knightdale had won 52-27 last year in Randy Pinkowski’s first season at the Clayton helm, snapping a six-game Comet winning streak in the series.
“This is a very scrappy team,” Pinkowski said. “We’ve lost two games by six points and have won about three in the last two minutes. These kids don’t let anything faze them and don’t let anything other them. They listen intently as we’re coaching them and making adjustments. And they just get the job done.
“I can’t say enough about the impact of getting Rodney Rowe back. Our offensive line is much improved from last week. We made the adjustments and got the job done. We were able to constantly pound and get a first down. We have a lot of guys that you’ve got to watch for. Eric can roll or dart up the middle. There are a lot of offensive weapons here.”
Cedric Dargan is in his first season as head coach at Knightdale.
“It was a heavyweight fight,” Dargan said. “I told the guys at halftime it was going to come down to the last possession and it did. I wouldn’t trade these kids for the world. They left it all on the field today and I’m proud of them.
“We controlled the ball and kept our defense off the field a lot. I liked our effort, but we just came up short.”
The Comets led 18-14 at the half. Clayton scored on its first three possessions.
The first Comet touchdown came with 8:21 left in the first, as Kevonte Holder completed an eight-play, 73-yard drive by recovering a Blake Joyner fumble into the end zone.
Knightdale came back to take the lead at 5:14, when Joshua Schenk’s 1-yard run completed a seven-play, 59-yard drive with Vlyle Walker adding the kick.
Back came Clayton on the first play of the second quarter, as Eric Hoy found Joyner in stride behind the defense with a 27-yard scoring connection.
Soon after that the Comets got the first big break, as Hoy intercepted a Nick Pope pass and returned it 29 yards to the Knightdale 15. Rowe ran it in on the next play, but the Comets came up short on their third straight conversion and led 18-7 with 10:29 left before the break.
“I’m so proud of my team right now,” Hoy said. “I’m just happy to have Rodney back. He’s a major asset to our offense.
“I like the way we’re playing. We’ve got heart and commitment. We might lose a game sometimes, but we get back up and keep right on going.”
Isaiah Scott finished the first-half scoring for the Knights, going in from seven yards out to complete a four-play, 19-yard drive following a Comet fumble. Walker’s kick cut the advantage to 18-14 with 6:48 left in the half.
The teams then exchanged their final four TDs. Devin Lessane scored from 11 yards out to help the visitors to a 21-18 lead with 7:01 left in the third quarter.
Rowe scored from four yards out to get the Comets the lead back with 10:39 left, but Andre Willis put the Knights back ahead on a 24-yard run at 8:25.
Joyner then scored the winner. Knightdale elected to punt on fourth and 10 from its own 42 with 3:52 to go, and the Comets used seven running plays to run out the clock.
“This was a tough one,” Knightdale’s senior lineman Duncan Harris said. “We played our hearts out. I thought we ran the ball great. We just kept pounding the rock.
“Clayton didn’t surprise us much. They just did a great job.”