Rethinking ‘potential’

Dragons’ big plays complement ‘ground and pound’ playbook

  • Senior running back Connor Moody (40) powered his way into the end zone from one yard out on the Dragons’ second scoring drive. Moody finished the night with two touchdowns. - Tony Cox

  • Trace Thackerson (8) prevents Austin East’s big play threat, Jeremiah Conwell (11), from breaking into open field during Friday night’s win over the visiting Roadrunners. The Dragons’ defense held the Roadrunners to just 164 yards of total offense. - Tony Cox

Clinton Dragons head Coach Darell Keith thought in preseason that he would have a ground-and-pound, running-oriented team.

But the Dragons’ big-play capabilities have forced a change in that thinking.

The Dragons blitzed an opponent in the first half for the second straight week Friday, rolling up a 46-0 lead en route to a 53-13 victory over Austin-East.

The Clinton home game was played on Bill Wilson Field at Knoxville West, as the Dragons’ new turf field was not ready yet.

Rodayvien Truss scored three touchdowns for the Dragons (2-0), igniting the scoring with a 95-yard kickoff return for a TD to open the game, his second straight game with a long return after scoring on a pick-six against William Blount the week before.

Quarterback Joshuah Keith hit Truss for two passing TDs and added a third score through the air to Andy King.

Running back Connor Moody blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, scored on a 72-yard run, and added another TD rushing for Clinton.

Moody led a 10-man Clinton rushing attack with 86 yards on three carries.

Dragon quarterback Keith finished 11-for-17 passing with 216 yards and three touchdowns. The totals included a 77-yard non-scoring toss to Jeremiah Blauvelt.

Clinton rushed 29 times for 226 yards and three TDs and piled up 442 yards in total offense to the Roadrunners’ 164.

Clinton harassed Roadrunner quarterback Lashaud Holloway into three interceptions and sacked him twice in the Dragons’ first meeting with A-E since 1982. The Roadrunners (0-2) were led on offense by running back Markeyis Billingsly, who rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

The Dragons led William Blount 33-0 at halftime the previous week and have now started a season 2-0 for the first time since 2017.

Clinton missed four PATs but otherwise impressed their head coach.

“I thought that at times we looked real crisp, and I thought at times we looked sloppy. We still have to learn how to close,” said Darell Keith. “We played a little bit better in the third quarter. We still have some woes in the kicking game, in special teams.”

The Dragons’ quick-strike capabilities on both sides of the ball help ease those woes.

“It’s a problem I like having,” Keith said.

Several Clinton players left the game injured, including backup quarterback Trace Thackerson, who on defense recorded one of the three Dragon interceptions.

“I’m hoping these guys with these ankle injuries will be with us next week. Losing Trace is a big blow,” Keith said.

Clinton wasted little time in scoring against Austin-East. Truss took the opening kickoff at his 5-yard line and motored through the heart of the Roadrunners’ coverage team for a 95-yard touchdown. The Dragons’ extra-point failed, but they led 6-0 only 18 seconds into the game.

Austin-East managed two first downs but punted to the Dragons, who took over at their own 11. A 78-yard touchdown run by Braylon Taylor was wiped out because of a penalty, but quarterback Keith connected with Blauvelt for a 77-yard bomb down the left sideline. Austin Hunter made a TD-saving tackle for Austin-East at the Roadrunner 9-yard line. After a procedure penalty on the Dragons, Moody ran for 13 yards and then plunged over for the TD from the 1 a play later. A two-point run failed, leaving Clinton up 12-0 with 7:30 left in the opening period.

The Roadrunners’ Dimere Ligon returned the kickoff 39 yards into Clinton territory, but running back Camden Burse was stifled on two straight plays, being tackled by Moody on one 2-yard gain and fumbling and getting tackled by Chase Glandon on the next snap. Austin-East would end up losing the ball on downs at the Dragon 28 as Caleb Cook and a host of Clinton teammates tackled Billingsly for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-one.

The Dragons needed only five plays to march 71 yards for a touchdown. A 14-yard Keith pass to Taylor notched one first down. From A-E territory, receiver King came open at the Roadrunner 25, and Keith hit him in stride to complete a 44-yard touchdown pass. Thackerson’s two-point run put the Dragons up 20-0 with 1:06 left in the quarter.

A-E picked up one first down on its next drive, but Glandon and Hunter Ford combined on a sack of Holloway, and Thackerson nearly intercepted a pass to set up a punt.

The Dragons took over at the Roadrunner 41 and somewhat shakily drove for another touchdown. Keith ripped off a 32-yard run to the 6, rumbling over Ligon at the end of the play. A bad snap led to a 13-yard loss, and a 19-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Moody was called back because of a holding penalty. Truss, however, would come free in the back-right corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown toss from Keith. A two-point pass failed, but the Dragons led 26-0 with 7:41 to go in the half.

Austin-East’s next series ended in disaster. After a three-and-out, during which Moody submarined receiver Jeremiah Conwell for a 5-yard loss on a running play, Moody blocked Ezzuldin Fawwaz’s punt and scooped it up in the end zone for a touchdown. Moody outhustled several Roadrunners for the ball to complete a 30-yard play. The extra-point kick was blocked, making Clinton’s lead 32-0 with 6:28 remaining in the half.

Billingsly would return the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to put the Roadrunners on Clinton’s side of the field, but the possession would ultimately end when Fawwaz missed a 50-yard field goal short.

The Dragons took over at the 20 and scored in four plays. On third-and-two from the 28, Moody ran the ball around right end and never looked back, scoring on a 72-yard jaunt to the end zone. Ryan Bradley’s extra point put the Dragons up 39-0 with 2:40 left in the half.

Austin-East’s special-teamers failed to fall on Bradley’s kickoff, and Brandon Hollifield recovered the ball for Clinton on the Roadrunner 15. A 10-yard sack by Billingsly moved the Dragons back, but a 16-yard run by Truss helped set up Keith’s 19-yard TD pass to Truss, who was wide open in the front-right corner of the end zone. Bradley’s boot gave Clinton a 46-0 lead with 1:19 to go in the half.

Jackson West and Cole Todora combined on a 9-yard sack for the Dragons to start off A-E’s next possession, but Holloway would find Conwell for a 55-yard touchdown pass. Fawwaz’s extra point cut the Dragon lead to 46-7.

Mercy-rule timing, with Clinton up by more than 35 at the start of the second half, would be in play when the third quarter began.

Deven Monroe tackled Billingsly for a 3-yard loss on the first scrimmage play of the second half. Thackerson then came up with an interception, catching a ball that receiver Juwaan Troutman bobbled, at the Roadrunner 45.

But Clinton would be forced into its only punt of the night. Thackerson came in at quarterback for the Dragons but was hurt on a 4-yard sack by James Walk. After Blaine Collins’ 31-yard punt, Riley Silk tackled the Roadrunner return man for a 1-yard loss.

A-E would put together an eight-play, 85-yard drive capped by Billingsly runs of 25 and 21 for a TD. Teegan Bolinger blocked Fawwaz’s extra-point kick, leaving Clinton up 46-13 and temporarily stopping the mercy-rule running clock because the margin had gotten under 35 points.

Keith returned at quarterback. Elijah Batiste reeled off an 18-yard turn for one first down, and Keith completed an 18-yard pass to Bolinger for another. But as the fourth quarter debuted, Clinton would turn the ball over on downs with 11:37 left.

Jeremiah Lee recorded Clinton’s second interception of the game to give the Dragons possession at the A-E 22, but after a 16-yard Batiste run, the home team would turn the ball over on downs at the 2-yard line.

Gage Wergin came up with the Dragons’ third interception two plays later, catching another deflection/drop by the Roadrunners, at the A-E 24.

King would score his second touchdown moments later on a 24-yard end-around run, and Bradley’s kick made it a 53-13 game and brought the mercy rule back into play

Clinton forced a three-and-out and then ran out the clock on its last drive as Silk reeled off runs of 10 and 20 yards.

Batiste would finish the game with 41 yards on five carries, while Silk rushed for 32 on three attempts.