SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -– They call him ‘Honey Badger’ because of his knack to make big plays when it matters the most. And on Friday night, that’s exactly what he did.
Unlike LSU’s version, Springfield Central’s DaQuon Clemons isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The junior running back and defensive back made a number of big plays to propel his team to a huge season-opening victory over intra-city rival Springfield Putnam at Burte Field, but none bigger than the one he made in the fourth quarter.
With the Golden Eagles trailing 8-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Beavers faced 3rd and 7 on their own 42 yard line. Putnam quarterback Kayjuan Bynum then dropped back in the pocket and fired a pass well short of his intended receiver. That’s when Clemons made the play of the night.
The pass found Clemons for the easy interception, but the defensive back wasn’t finished. He looked up and saw plenty of open field. With blockers helping him along the way, Clemons raced downfield, trucked a Putnam player to the ground and jogged in to paydirt to give his team a lead they would never relinquish. Central went on to prevail, 21-8.
“DaQuon Clemons is a playmaker,” Central head coach Valdamar Brower said. “This was his first game that he actually started, so hopefully he can keep it going. Hopefully he makes that contagious and just likes to make plays. That would be great for us.
“He’s the good ‘Honey Badger.’”
Dynamic backfield emerges: It’s not easy replacing a 2,000-yard rusher in any backfield. Just ask Central, which was forced to move on from the Sacoy Malone era on Friday night.
Central, however, was well-prepared, and tried its best to replicate his outstanding production from a year ago. Both Clemons and senior Aaron Owens carried the load against Putnam and were very effective.
Clemons opened up the scoring in the first quarter with an impressive run. The junior found a seam on the left side, broke a couple of tackles and dove at the pylon, getting just enough of the ball over the goal line to give Central a 6-0 lead.
But while the play was big and certainly gave the Golden Eagles a boost, it was really the only rush in the first half that netted a lot of yardage as the Beavers snuffed out a number of runs in the Central backfield. Brower acknowledged it took some fine-tuning at halftime in order to put together a big second half, and specifically, fourth quarter.
“I have to thank Coach Williams and the hogs,” Brower said. “Coach Williams, the offensive line coach, the hogs are the offensive linemen. Some things didn’t happen right in the first half. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times, but they stuck with it and kept grinding.”
They especially stuck with it late in the fourth quarter. On the next play after the interception returned for the touchdown, Central forced a fumble and recovered to give itself the ball back at around midfield.
That’s when Owens went to work. Junior quarterback Cody Williams continued to feed the rock to his 5-foot-9, 195-pound back, who made the most of his opportunities, netting positive yardage and bowling over Putnam defenders play after play. His 13-yard touchdown with just minutes remaining officially sealed the deal on an impressive victory.
Penalties, mistakes haunt Putnam: As could be expected in an opening game, both teams played extremely sloppy football, and both teams made plenty of mistakes that they wouldn’t normally make near the end of the season.
But unfortunately for the Beavers, who were unable to take advantage from their dominance in time possession, their mistakes were ultimately the costing factor in a forgettable opening night loss.
Putnam was whistled for nine penalties, including five false starts on Friday night. One of those false starts was called in spite of Bynum’s touchdown pass to Tavis Frazer that gave the Beavers the lead going into halftime, but it wasn’t enough.
A messy game, which included a play in which Bynum tossed it back to junior Wayne Lowery, who then made an ill-advised throw that resulted in a 54-yard interception return for Central, gave the Golden Eagles a short field time and time again. And Central did a good job in not wasting those opportunities.
“We just kept executing, kept fighting,” Brower said. “The kids had the fire in their eyes the whole game.”
Central moves on to Everett: Last year in the season-opener, Central fell short to its intra-city rivals, which set up a meeting with top-ranked Everett, which also resulted in a loss.
While the Golden Eagles did end up finding a way to reach the Division 1 West Super Bowl despite starting 0-2, they’ll be happy to have a win under their belt going into their rematch with No. 1 Everett next week.
Williams knows his team needs to play better if they’re going to knock off the top-ranked team in the state next week.
“We’re definitely not at our best,” he said. “We obviously need to get better on defense. Our defense was on the field way too long. But we’re going to take care of it in practice and we’re going to be ready for Everett come Friday.