Dawgs limit Taft to 43 yards, have five takeaways in win



CELINA-There’s nothing like a win, regardless of how the game was played. Any coach in any sport will tell you they’d rather have an ugly win than a stylish defeat.

That pretty well sums up the Clay County Bulldogs’ season-opening win over Taft Youth Center last Friday night. It would be hard to award any style points in the 26-16 victory, but it gave the Dawgs a 1-0 mark for the third straight year, provided some valuable game experience for the young CCHS team, and gave David Maxfield a win in his first contest as a head coach. 

The third win in a row over Taft for CCHS was typical of many season openers. The teams combined for more penalties than first downs (18-14), Taft had more turnovers than first downs or scores, and the two squads fell just one short of double digits in turnovers between them.

The Bulldogs overcame four turnovers of their own (including two which resulted in the only Taft scores) with five takeaways in a stingy defensive effort that allowed the visitors only 43 yards at game’s end.  CCHS intercepted three passes in only five Taft passing attempts, and also pounced on a couple of Taft fumbles, both of those recoveries being made by junior Matt Copeland. 

The Dawg offense was a bit sporadic, but did have some high spots, including three touchdown passes by sophomore Marshall Burch in his debut as a starter, and a good performance from the tailback spot from two players.

The first three completions of Burch’s career all went for scores, and a pair of them came on long plays to senior Shawn Garrett. The two connected on a 35-yard score at the 7:24 mark of the first quarter to put Clay County on top 7-0 (as Nick Cox added the PAT).  Copeland had set up the score by recovering a muffed Taft punt return and returning it 33 yards. 

Taft picked up a Dawg fumble and returned it 30 yards for a score in the closing seconds of the quarter, and added a two-point conversion to lead 8-7 after one.

The second Burch-Garrett TD connection covered 30 yards and gave CCHS the lead for good. It came early in the second quarter, after senior tailback Justin Owens, who later nabbed an interception, had scampered 35 yards. Cox added the PAT and the Dawgs led 14-8, taking that lead to the half.  Sophomore Andrew Walker picked off a Taft pass late in the half to help preserve the lead. 

The Dawgs continued their penchant for scoring early in each quarter in the third. Sophomore tailback Nick Cox rambled 53 yards to the Taft seven-yard line, and two plays later Burch hit wideout Nick McDonald on a three-yard scoring pass. The PAT failed, leaving CCHS up 20-8. 

Taft took advantage of another Clay turnover at the 4:22 mark, picking up a lateral and going 55 yards for a score. The two-point conversion was again good, cutting the Bulldogs lead to only four points heading into the fourth quarter. 

Owens and Dylan Collins combined on a big stop early in the fourth for the Dawgs, forcing a Taft punt. Garrett, who had a good night returning kicks, brought the punt back 24 yards to the Taft 30. 

Burch was sacked on first down, taking the ball back to the 35, but Owens ripped off another big gainer on third down. This one covered 25 yards and took the ball down to the five. Owens and Cox combined for 152 yards on the ground at tailback. 

From there, senior fullback Nick Stephens pounded into the Taft line twice, scoring the second time from three yards out. The two-point try failed and the Dawgs led at the 9:23 mark by what would be the final score. 

Owens and Stephens capped the fine defensive effort for Clay with fourth-quarter interceptions to keep Taft at bay.  In addition to limiting the visitors to only 43 yards and forcing five turnovers, the CCHS defense allowed only three first downs on the night. 

The Bulldogs have Friday night off and will travel to Monterey on September 4 for a crucial region contest.