After the Region 3-5A matchup, the Dragons fell to 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the region. Campbell County improved to 6-1, 2-1.
Clinton is forced into a must-win situation this coming week at Lenoir City and in the final week at home against Karns—two region opponents—if it wants to make the playoffs this year.
Dragon quarterback Joshuah Keith came off the bench after leaving injured in the previous game at Chattanooga Central and went 7-for-12 passing for 209 yards and a touchdown against Campbell County. Jeremiah Blauvelt hauled in three passes for 92 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown for the Dragons’ only points.
Receiver/defensive back Andy King caught a 55-yard pass and made several big plays on defense for Clinton, including an interception. Chauncey Felts led Dragon rushers with 52 yards on three carries. Punter Barrett Maddox averaged 40.4 yards a kick on five punts, with a season-best 52-yarder among them.
Campbell County quarterback Hunter White was only 10-for-25 passing, but he accumulated 180 yards and two touchdowns. Ethan Miller caught the two TD tosses from White covering 72 and 35 yards and finished with four catches for 127 yards. CJ Allen rushed 18 times for 133 yards for the Cougars, but left the game after the first series of the second half.
The Dragons again outgained an opponent, 346 yards to 324 this time, but were plagued by double-digit penalties, getting flagged 11 times for 106 yards.
“There are some intangibles that I’m going to have to plan for next year that I didn’t see coming. Our kids are very emotional. They make a lot of emotional decisions, and we all know when you make decisions based on emotions, it never turns out well,” said Dragon head Coach Darell Keith. “We’ve got kids out there making personal fouls, jumping offsides consistently—that’s on me.”
Clinton’s defense stiffened several times during the game, including in the shadow of its own goalposts more than once. Keith credited his defensive coordinator with the Dragons’ fine play on that side of the ball.
“You have to talk about Xavier Mitchell when you talk about defense,” he said. “This guy comes in early, leaves out late, plus he works a full-time job. I’m just blessed to have him. Those kids—they’ve got something on defense. We had it at the beginning of the year on offense—I don’t know where it went.”
The Campbell County game turned on a fourth-down call with 8:10 left in the game, when quarterback Keith was ruled less than a yard short on a fourth-and-three rush from the Cougar 26-yard line.
“The spot down here, that was horrible,” head coach Keith said. “It hurts me to see the kids work so hard and not get a fair shake.”
Clinton began the game with an 11-play drive but came away from it scoreless. Starting quarterback Trace Thackerson ran for 10 yards on one play for a first down, but the drive would end in a Maddox punt of 42 yards that went for a touchback.
The Cougars’ Allen ran 30 yards on his team’s first play from scrimmage. Using mostly Allen runs, Campbell County moved to the Dragon 5 but turned it over on downs. King broke up a pass for Clinton, and Deven Monroe tackled Allen on a short pass to bring up fourth-and-seven at the 11. The Cougars gained only 6 yards on a fourth-down pass to turn the ball over.
Clinton went three-and-out and punted, and Campbell County took over at the Dragon 39. A 33-yard run by Allen set up first-and-goal on the final play of the first quarter, but Chase Glandon tackled Allen for a 3-yard loss on the first snap of the second period, and Rodayvien Truss recovered an Allen fumble on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The game remained scoreless.
Felts ran 34 yards on third-and-three from the Dragon 16 to give Clinton a first down on its next series, but Thackerson would trip and fall for a 9-yard loss to set up Maddox’s 52-yard punt to the Cougar 5-yard line.
William Taylor made a tackle for the Dragons to stop an Allen rush for a 1-yard gain, and a heavy Clinton rush on White in the end zone nearly led to a safety. The Cougars went three-and-out and punted.
Quarterback Keith entered on the Dragons’ next series. Receiver Truss ran for 10 yards, and Blauvelt caught a 26-yard pass to move the Dragons to the Cougar 43. Clinton, however, would punt two plays later, and Maddox backed up the visitors to their own 10.
Allen ran for 45 yards to get the Cougars out of the hole, but the drive would end in a punt with 25.9 seconds left in the half. Clinton ran one play to run out the clock, and the game went into halftime 0-0.
Peyton Ferguson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 52 yards for the Cougars to the Dragon 34-yard line. King, though, would pick off a White pass at the Dragon 1-yard line.
Clinton fumbled the ball away to the Cougars at the Dragon 10, but three incomplete passes led to a 32-yard Latham Carr field goal for Campbell County that went wide left.
The next Dragon possession ended curiously.
Keith passed 34 yards to Lucas Kendall to start the series, and Connor Moody ran 24 yards for another first down. A 10-yard sack of Keith by Campbell County’s Josh Heatherly was followed by a 21-yard pass to Truss to set up fourth-and-two at the Cougar 14.
King appeared to catch a touchdown pass for the Dragons, hauling the ball in at the 10 and juking his way to the end zone. But the Dragon receiver was called for illegal touching, having lined up at tight end with two receivers covering him on the line, making him an ineligible receiver. The fourth-down penalty turned the ball over to the Cougars.
This time the visitors would score, going 81 yards in six plays for a TD. Clinton was flagged 15 yards each for pass interference and a personal foul to help move the ball into Dragon territory. Miller hauled in a 35-yard toss from White for the first score of the game, and Carr’s extra-point kick made it 7-0 Cougars with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
Clinton would answer back, although a Dragon personal-foul penalty on the PAT led to an easy touchback kick for Carr, forcing the home team to start the next possession from its 20. The Dragons needed only three plays to score, getting 10 yards on a pass from Keith to Blauvelt, 14 yards on a Felts run, and 56 yards and the score to Blauvelt. The Clinton receiver caught the ball at the Cougar 25 along the left sideline and moved into the end zone. The Dragons’ extra-point kick failed after a bad snap—holder Keith was forced to run for it and did not make the end zone. Clinton did cut the score to 7-6 with 2 minutes even left in the quarter.
Campbell County needed just three plays to score itself. On third-and-nine from the Cougar 28, White hit a wide-open Miller at the Campbell County 40 along the left sideline, and the receiver outran the Dragon defense to the end zone. Carr’s kick made it 14-6 with 1:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Elijah Batiste returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards to the Dragon 46-yard line. A late hit out of bounds on the Cougars gave Clinton 15 yards to the Campbell County 35. But a sack for 2 yards by the Cougars’ Blake Roberts led to another Dragon punt.
A King pass breakup helped force the Cougars to punt after three plays. Truss returned the punt 13 yards to the Campbell County 33, but Clinton would turn the ball over on downs after the controversial spot on Keith’s fourth-down run.
Campbell County ran off 5 minutes, 57 seconds, on its next possession and punted. That left the Dragons only 2:13 on the clock to try and tie the game.
Clinton started at its own 13-yard line and converted a 55-yard catch-and-run from Keith to King on the first play. The Dragon receiver caught the ball at the Clinton 40 and made up the rest of the ground with his feet. Keith spiked the ball to kill the clock on first down from the Cougar 32. Zac Brady would sack Keith for a 3-yard loss on second down. Keith ran the ball 9 yards on third down, but on fourth-and-four from the Cougar 26, Keith’s pass to Blauvelt fell incomplete.
Campbell County’s White then took two kneel-downs to run out the clock.
Head coach Keith was hard on himself after the game, focusing on the Dragons’ offensive struggles.
“All of the things that we’re experiencing right now are my fault. There’s something I’m not doing right on the other side of the ball. Defensively, they are locked tight. Throughout the game, we kept them in bad situation after bad situation,” he said.
Not all is lost, he added.
“I’ve accomplished one of my missions here, and that is to bring the grit and fight back to these kids, but that’s not going to be enough,” he said. “We still lack discipline, and it’s costing us in the games. It’s costing us bad. You’re going to have to practice not jumping offsides, moving the ball, situational things, trying to make it the best as it can be, as realistic to the game as it can be.
“I’m going to bounce back. We’re going to bounce back. It ain’t over for the Dragons yet.”