BENSON — It may have lacked some of the luster of a usual Friday night contest but Clayton and West Johnston’s Monday night affair had all the importance of a typical late season game with the usual playoff implications.
Clayton, needing a pair of wins within five days to grab the No. 3 seed in the Greater Neuse River Conference to assure itself of a postseason berth, took the first step with a 27-21 win over West Johnston.
The game, which was originally scheduled for last Friday night but postponed due to soggy field conditions, displayed the to-be-expected vaunted Clayton rushing attack as the Comets ran for 379 yards.
The biggest plays of the night, however, may have been initiated by the arm of quarterback Sam May and the leg of place kicker Nick Christiansen.
In addition to finding the end zone on a pair of rushing scores, May gave Clayton the upper hand in the third quarter when he rolled out to his left and found fullback Jace Brown for 23 yards on a pivotal fourth-and-9 on the West Johnston 27-yardline.
The completion, May’s only one of the night, was followed by Evan Bradshaw’s four-yard plunge on the next play to break the tie and give Clayton the 21-14 lead late in the third quarter.
“The game really hinged on that fourth down play,” Clayton coach Randy Pinkowski said of May’s connection with Brown that came after May just missed Brown on the previous play. “He’s not a big fan of that waggle pass but on that second time on the fourth down situation, he came around with great patience, set, squared his shoulders downhill and threw a strike to our fullback.
“That was the ballgame right there.”
Christiansen added a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter to then fend off the resilient Wildcats and move the Comets (7-3, 3-2) to a tie for third place in the GNRC entering the final Friday of the regular season.
West Johnston (3-6, 1-4) seemed to have an answer for the Comets all night long. After falling behind a score in the first quarter, Cameron Williams led the Wildcats down the field twice in the second quarter and ran the ball in on both scoring drives to give the Wildcats the 14-7 halftime lead.
In the fourth quarter, after Christiansen hit the first of his two field goals to push Clayton up by 10 points, Williams connected on big gains through the air to Josh Banfalvy and Xavier Carter on the ensuing drive before Cody Murdock found the end zone from four yards out.
That’s when the Clayton rushing attack did the most damage in taking over five minutes off the clock to leave Williams just 59 seconds to try to answer one last time, now down six points after Christiansen’s second field goal of the quarter.
Williams was pressured each of the next four plays on which he dropped back to pass and the Comets forced the turnover on downs to end the game.
“Our kids played really hard and they stood right in there toe-to-toe with them,” West Johnston coach Jimmy Williams said of his team, who dropped its fourth game of the season by seven points or less. “It’s where we’ve been all year. You’ve got learn to be in tight games before you can win them.
“We’re starting to cross that threshold.”
Brown led the Comets with 159 yards on the ground while Eric Hoy (77 yards) and Rodney Rowe (75 yards) did their usual damage toting the ball.
Williams led West Johnston with 115 yards passing to go along with his two rushing touchdowns. Tre Frederick led the Wildcats with 53 yards rushing.