Dragons show balance at C-N jamboree
The Clinton Dragons rolled up more than 300 yards and five touchdowns in only two jamboree quarters Thursday as they dominated the inaugural 5StarPreps Jamboree at Carson-Newman University.
The Dragons blanked Grace Christian of Knoxville 14-0 in their first game and, after allowing an early score, walloped Jellico 20-7 in their second outing. Starting quarterback Joshuah Keith and fellow signal-caller Trace Thackerson took turns in standing out with big plays in each game, and Dragon runner Connor Moody scored against both opponents.
“The effort was there. We still need to work on some execution,” Dragon head coach Darell Keith said afterward. “The biggest thing we’re working on is changing the culture. One of the things they did that really impressed me that I didn’t see here last year was, Jellico went down and scored. No doubt about it, they drove the ball down the field and scored. In the past they would have held their heads, ‘same old Clinton,’ and got down on themselves, but hey, they came back and drove the ball all the way down the field and scored. That shows we’re learning how to deal with adversity. The culture’s changing. We’ve brought some kids in from other areas with different mentalities. We had a good freshman class last year that we played.”
After Grace beat Jellico 7-0, Clinton took the field against the Knoxville squad. The Dragons had the ball first, starting on their own 30-yard line, and marched 70 yards in 10 plays to go up 7-0. Brandon Hollifield ran 18 yards for one first down, and Keith scampered 22 yards for another. Moody recorded a 19-yard run to the Grace 23. Keith ran 13 yards to the 5-yard-line, and Moody scored on the next play to give Clinton the lead. Julio Orendain’s extra point made it 7-0.
Grace managed a first down but was forced to punt by the Dragons, as Jeremiah Blauvelt, Hollifield, Chase Glandon, and Wesley Phillips made tackles for Clinton. Glandon’s tackle was a minus-yardage stop for 3 yards.
The Dragons needed only three plays for six points on their next possession. From his own 40-yard line, Keith hit Lucas Kendall for a 60-yard touchdown. Kendall caught the ball at the 20 and outmaneuvered his defender for the score. Danny Mitchell booted through the extra point to make it 14-0.
Lastat Williams recovered a Grace fumble on the next series to give the ball back to the Dragons with 23.6 seconds left. Derek Bean, Williams, and Hunter Ford had tackles for the Dragons before the fumble, and Bean broke up a pass at the Clinton 12. The Dragons then ran out the clock for the win.
Clinton outgained Grace 150 yards to 57. Keith rushed three times for 40 yards and Moody three for 26 with a score. Keith passed 3-for-5 for 73 yards and a touchdown. Jeremiah Blauvelt had the only two catches apart from Kendall’s scoring reception.
Jellico stung Clinton for an early score, as a receiver caught a pass near the line of scrimmage and broke loose for a 61-yard gain. The Blue Devils’ quarterback scored shortly thereafter on a 7-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Caleb Cook, Glandon, Erreese King, and Cole Todora had tackles on the series for the Dragons.
The lead wouldn’t last.
On Clinton’s second play from the 30, Thackerson zeroed in on Nigel Lee at the Jellico 30, and the Clinton receiver went the distance to complete a 70-yard touchdown. Blaine Collins kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.
Three plays later, Thackerson—playing defense—snagged an interception and ran it 42 yards for a touchdown. Orendain’s extra point made it 14-7 Dragons.
The Dragons gave Jellico a first down by penalty but forced a Blue Devil punt. Elijah Batiste recorded a 5-yard tackle for loss for the Dragons, and Lee and Williams also made stops on the series.
Keith took over under center and led Clinton on an 88-yard TD drive in only two plays. William Taylor ran for 26 yards and a first down for the Dragons. After penalties by each team, Moody broke loose on a 62-yard TD run, outrunning a defender from about the 20-yard line to the end zone. The extra point was wide right, but the Dragons were up 20-7 with 2:07 left.
Jellico went nowhere in its final possession as Bean and William Taylor made tackles. Bean’s stop was for minus-9 yards.
Clinton rolled up 158 yards against the Blue Devils’ 65. Thackerson was 1-for-2 for 70 yards and a touchdown passing. Jellico’s 61-yard pass play made up the majority of its offense, as the Blue Devils ran for only 3 yards on 8 attempts against the Dragon defense.
Clinton also won three of the five skills competitions at the jamboree. Caleb Cook captured the lineman race, outrunning several players from Grace and Jellico from the goal line to the 50-yard line. Quarterback Keith won the passing competition with a 51-yard heave from the goal line to the opposite 49-yard line.
Barrett Maddox of Clinton triumphed in a lineman’s punt-receiving competition against a player from Grace and another from Jellico. Each player had to make a two-handed catch through the first five rounds. The Jellico player dropped his punt and was eliminated in the third round. Maddox and the Grace player matched catches through five rounds. The competition went to one-handed catches at that point, and in the sixth round Maddox caught his punt one-handed while the Grace player dropped his.
Head coach Keith said he was impressed by the Dragons’ quick-strike offense.
“I was very surprised. I thought we were going to be a methodical team, a step-by-step, inch-by-inch, but I didn’t see the big play coming,” he said.
Keith pointed out that the interception return for a score was made by one of his quarterbacks, Thackerson.
“He’s going to do big things for us. We’re going to play him all over the field,” he said. “We’re going to try to keep both quarterbacks on the field at all costs. We don’t want to say it’s a competition. We’re going to say they’re going to work together to help us win.”
Quarterback Keith, the coach’s son, and Thackerson could both see playing time.
“It depends on the situation,” head coach Keith said. “If one’s hot, I’ve got to stick with him. If one’s not, then I’ve got to put another one in. I have to go with what [John] Majors said, ‘If you’ve got two quarterbacks, you ain’t got one.’”
Williams, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound freshman transfer from Atlanta, made an impression at the jamboree. Williams is among several Dragons well above 6 feet in height.
“We’re going to be bigger,” Keith said.
Clinton may be much improved in 2021, he added, after going 2-6 with the second-toughest schedule in the state last year.
“I think that we will be considerably better. The true test will be against Oak Ridge and Powell when we play against those type teams. Are you going to get caught up in the name and the tradition, or are you just going to go out and play?” Keith said.
The head coach said he was proud of his son.
“Ever since we had Joshuah, he’s always been undersized, as kid, as a baby, as a child,” he said. “He has a chip on his shoulder. He plays with his heart. He’s a very good kid, a very disciplined kid. If he was not my son, he still would be the starter. He’s not the starter because he is my son, but I’m proud of him. The William Blount coach said something to me that was really important in Nashville, and it made me an instant friend of him, he said, ‘Don’t punish your son because he’s your son.’”
The Dragons open the season this Friday at William Blount.