The 1-2 punch of Kadon Crawford and Zay Johnson, scoring off the throwing arm of Tushawan Richardson, leveled visiting Palmetto in a “frustrating” game Friday night at Wilder Stadium.
Between them, the teams were flagged for 17 penalties and Clinton, twice, had touchdowns called back by yellow flags.
The Red Devils regrouped at halftime, cleaned up their execution, and closed out the opening round of the AAA playoffs with their 10th win of the season. This Friday, Clinton will host Broome, a team that used to be a region opponent; the Centurions defeated Seneca with 4 seconds on the game clock in their playoff first-rounder (42-35).
Crawford scored two first half touchdowns and then, at halftime, was recognized as a Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl North-South Game (Dec. 9) selection. Clinton Football Head Coach Corey Fountain said of Crawford, “He comes ready to play football every single night and it’s a testament to what he does Monday through Thursday. You don’t win football games on Friday night, you win with preparation.”
After a Javan Cook touchdown was taken off the board by a penalty, and a Palmetto score following an interception, Crawford capped a 95-yard Clinton scoring drive with a touchdown run. Connecting with Richardson, Crawford’s go-up-and-grab-it catch pushed the lead out to 14-6 on a 35-yard scoring play. Palmetto clawed back a touchdown to make it 14-12 with 1:03 left in the first half.
Frustration already had starting sinking in for Coach Fountain.
“Not a good first half for us. We were battling Palmetto. We were battling ourselves at times. We were battling the rest of the guys on the field that weren’t the Palmetto Mustangs or the Clinton Red Devils. And it was frustrating. We went into the locker room, and we told them it’s not going to be easy, everybody’s zero to zero in the playoffs. You got to show some grit and you got to go out in the second half and execute like how we know we can do as Red Devils, and they did, they showed it. We started a little slower than I like, but we got the momentum. We got the big plays on special teams and defense, big plays in the passing game on offense, and we started executing it. We imposed our will in the second half.”
Crawford ended with 4 catches for 50 yards and two scores and 8 runs for 35 yards and one score, while Johnson, who has been selected for the Shrine Bowl, ended with 4 catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns. Richardson continued his efficient passing – 10 completions in 12 attempts for 121 yards; Palmetto bettered that figure with 261 passing yards.
The difference was running – Clinton’s ground-punishing 279 yards to Palmetto’s 26 yards on the ground. Tray Cook ran for 79 and DJ Clark ran for 77 yards for the Red Devils.
The Clinton secondary got a severe challenge as the Mustangs threw the ball 37 times.
The slow start to the second half that Fountain referred to included another Crawford touchdown coming off the board because of a holding penalty, and later Clinton turning the ball over on downs.
It was then that special teams came into play. Mikevious Byrd intercepted a pass on a botched punt attempt by Palmetto, and Crawford put his third touchdown on the board on a Richardson pass. Clinton’s first possession of the 4th quarter started with a Richardson to Zay Johnson 26-yard scoring pass and – suddenly – Palmetto was in a 28-12 hole.
Johnson’s 19-yard TD catch and Keleja Byrd’s 40-yard pick-six finished off the Mustangs, who did manage one more score. Clinton turned the ball over on downs at the Palmetto 3-yard line with 30 seconds left to play.