Dragons end 2019 in strong fashion

Win knocks Beavers out of playoffs

  • Clinton’s Josh Graham follows his blocking for a first-down run against Karns Friday night - Ken Leinart

  • Dragon Trevor Linderman was in the face of Karns’ two quarterbacks all night Friday. On this play, a Karns lineman gets in Linderman’s face. - Ken Leinart

Racking up a season high in points, the Clinton High School football Dragons celebrated senior night Friday with a 37-13 victory over visiting Karns.

Clinton (2-8, 2-4 in Region 3-5A) scored its first special-teams touchdown of the season and recorded its first safety in more than five years against the Beavers (2-8, 1-5), who lost out on a playoff spot with the defeat by the Dragons.

The 37 points were the most Clinton had scored since the last time it faced Karns, a 39-33 Dragon win in 2018.

Senior Evan Winchester celebrated his last Dragon game by running for one touchdown, passing for another, and scoring a third on an 80-yard punt return, racking up 143 all-purpose yards. The punt-return TD was the Dragons’ first since Travist Patrick scored on one against Halls on Halloween in 2014.

“The seniors have battled all year long,” said Dragon Head Coach Randy McKamey. “Every game, whether it was week one, week three, five, seven, it didn’t matter—they gave the same effort, and we came up short. We’ve been plagued with injuries. We’ve been plagued with red-zone situations where we couldn’t punch it in. Other than a couple of games, we’ve had a shot in every game.

“I’m proud that they could finish the year with a couple of wins under their belt, get a good taste in their mouths. We’re trying to build culture here, and that’s what it’s about. It’s a special group.”

Quarterback Trace Thackerson scored twice on short runs for the Dragons. Eli Deshomme led the Dragons in rushing with 36 yards on four carries. Senior Blake Cooper racked up 35 yards on seven carries. Thackerson also finished with 35 yards, on eight carries. Connor Moody caught a touchdown pass and rushed for 29 yards on five carries.

Moody led Dragon receivers with three catches for 59 yards. Senior Edwin Resendiz caught two for 60, and Winchester reeled in two for 35.

Clinton lost the time-of-possession stat, 25:32 to 22:28, for the first time all season. But the Dragons were efficient, scoring touchdowns on their only three possessions of the first half.

The Clinton field was still a little muddy from the previous week’s downpour in the Campbell County game.

“We were able to throw the ball [against Karns] in an ugly mess,” McKamey said. “We were able to run the ball. I think one of the coaches said that we had scored in every formation we put out there tonight, and we probably had four or five different formations.”

Seniors Josh Graham and Will Briggs each intercepted a pass for the Dragon defense. Clinton defenders Briggs, Graham, Moody, Trevor Linderman, senior Wyatt Russell, and Caleb Cook, who recorded the safety, were in on multiple tackles.

“We had a couple of good picks, a few hurries back there, got the safety by a freshman, Caleb Cook—that was nice,” McKamey said. “Holding them to 13 points—I think they’ve scored at least that or more on just about everybody they’ve played, whether it was Oak Ridge—obviously they beat Fulton. It’s a good team, a fast team that can get loose in a hurry.”

Karns’ offense mainly consisted of handoffs to De’Sean Bishop, who finished with 160 yards on 32 attempts, or passes to Trey Hawkins, who caught a game-high six passes for 40 yards.

A third-quarter fight marred the proceedings and led to both teams not shaking hands after the game. One player from each team was ejected following offsetting personal-foul penalties, and a Dragon assistant coach drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

“It was unfortunate. We’ve watched a lot of film on Karns. We’ve not seen that type of play. It doesn’t come from the coaching staff,” McKamey said. “It was a game that had a lot at stake for Karns. Definitely when they were hearing that Fulton was competing with Oak Ridge, they were just getting frustrated, I think. Our kids were obviously frustrated from our season. They had a lot to play for, both teams did—it was very unfortunate.

“Emotions were high. Our kids, I think we scored on all kinds of formations, so I’m sure [the Beavers] were pulling their hair out trying to figure things out, so it led to some frustration.”

Karns ended up drawing four personal-foul penalties and one unsportsmanlike flag in the game, while the Dragons had two personal fouls and two unsportsmanlike conducts.

The Dragons opened the game by scoring on their first possession, giving them their first points in the first quarter all season.

“That was nice to do,” McKamey said. “Again, the kids have been a lot looser. Once they realized they probably couldn’t get to the playoffs—I don’t know if that was a factor. They’ve been on a mission all year, and it just came up short. Once they got a little bit of success against Campbell County, it kind of became contagious.”

A nine-yard pass to Moody, a five-yard sneak by Thackerson on third-and-one, and an 11-yard Deshomme run gave the Dragons first-and-10 at the Karns 35. Clinton then executed a double pass, with Thackerson lateraling to Winchester and the latter flinging a 35-yard TD pass to Moody.

A Karns penalty before the extra point led to the Dragons attempting a two-point run by Russell, which fell short, leaving the home team up 6-0 with 9:15 on the clock.

The Beavers recovered an onside kick and marched 51 yards to the end zone, mostly on runs by Bishop, who scampered seven yards for the touchdown.

First-down runs by Moody, Cooper, and Deshomme, plus a nine-yard gain on a QB sneak by Thackerson, helped set up the Dragons with a first-and-goal at the Karns three-yard line. Thackerson sneaked it into the end zone from there, and senior Noah Grumbach’s kick gave Clinton a 13-7 lead with 3:20 left in the first.

Runs by Bishop and receptions by Hawkins got the Beavers into Dragon territory on their next possession, but Russell stopped Bishop for a five-yard loss, and a Karns personal-foul penalty left them at the Dragon 39. Briggs then intercepted quarterback Jalen Tucker on the next play, with Linderman chasing the QB toward the sideline and hurrying him into the pickoff.

Clinton’s next play was a short pass from Thackerson to Resendiz, which the receiver turned into a 58-yard gain. On third-and-eight from the Karns 12, Winchester lined up for a direct snap and scored on a touchdown run to the right pylon. Thackerson ran another sneak, this time for a two-point conversion, to give Clinton a 21-7 lead with 6:10 left in the half.

Karns reeled off a long possession, extended by a Dragon running-into-the-kicker penalty on fourth-and-five, but the Beavers wound up punting. Winchester took Brummett’s boot at the 20-yard line and motored 80 yards for a touchdown. Grumbach’s kick made it 28-7 with 1:54 to go in the second period. The Beavers failed to score to end the half and turned the ball over on downs at their own 48 to start the third quarter.

Moody caught a 15-yard pass on the Dragons’ next possession, but Hawkins intercepted Thackerson to end the series.

A personal foul and a pass-interference call on the Dragons set up the Beavers at the Clinton 29. Runs by Bishop and another pass-interference penalty on Clinton set up Bishop for a two-yard TD run. Brummett’s extra-point kick hit the right upright, leaving Karns down 28-13 with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter.

Senior Bryce Collins would make his only punt of the game for the Dragons on their next series, a 40-yarder that backed up Karns to its own 19. On fourth-and-16 from the 13, punter Brummett fielded a bad snap, ran to his left, and was swamped by a host of Dragons led by Cook for a safety and a 30-13 lead with 8:39 left in the game.

Winchester returned the ensuing free kick 16 yards to the Beaver 43, and the Dragons scored in only three plays. Winchester and a Karns defender wound up in simultaneous possession of a 34-yard pass to the 3-yard line, but Winchester wrestled the ball away. Moments later, Thackerson would sneak the ball in from the one for a Clinton TD. Grumbach’s kick made it 37-13 with 7:34 left.

A Graham interception and 24-yard return ended the next Beaver series, and runs by Resendiz, Cooper, Graham, and Thackerson helped the Dragons run out the clock for the win.

(Dan McWilliams was sports editor of The Courier News from 1990 to 1999.)