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Clinton expects to be in state title hunt yet again in 2020

Clinton is coming off an impressive 12-2 campaign that saw the Dark Horses season end to Northeastern in the 2A eastern regional final.

Now in head coach Cory Johnson‘s third season Clinton has lofty expectations that end with state title aspirations.

“We have high expectations,” Johnson said. “We expect to be in the state championship talks every year but each year is a different team.”

The Dark horses are returning some talent on the offensive and defensive end of the ball, but they have to replace some key play makers as well.

Last Season

Varsity Record: 12-2, 5-0 East Central

JV Record: 2-7

The Dark Horses got off to a fast start in 2019.

Clinton claimed large victories over East Bladen, J.F. Webb, and Pamlico County in the first three weeks to bring their point differential to 112 just 12 quarters into the season.

However, in the fifth game, Clinton lost defensive standout and South Carolina commit Mohamed Kaba to injury for the rest of the season.

“To lose him early in the season is tough,” Johnson said. “He was the best defensive player in the state and we rallied to win nine straight and made the regional final.”

In week four, Clinton dropped its first game to Central Cabbarus 19-8 on the road. The Dark Horses bounced back with a victory over Northside-Jacksonville that brought their record to 4-1 heading into conference play.

In the tough East Central 2A conference, Clinton dominated.

It took down all five conference foes and positioned themselves for the top seed in the east in the 2A football playoffs.

The Dark Horses ran through the competition on its way to the Eastern regional final but dropped the home game to the Eagles of Northeastern.

Clinton was able to throw for 1,000 yard and rush for 4,000 yards in the season.

Key Players

Blake Smith, QB (Jr.) – Smith came on towards the end of the season for Clinton. He provided a strong dual-threat option at the quarterback position. In the last five games, Smith passed for 500 yards and rushed for 600 yards.

Davion Smith, RB (Sr.) – Smith will be accompany in the backfield by Davion Smith. He rushed for 871 yards as a second option in his junior campaign and found pay dirt 11 times. Expect for Smith to be the lead horse for Clinton in his senior season.

Keasean Williams, WR/DB (Sr.) – Clinton is not known for its aerial attack but Williams will be a threat on the outside this season. The big 6‘3″ target is a large receiver that is fast and versatile. He was responsible for eight touchdowns a season ago but expect a bigger impact in 2020.

Johnathon Blackmon, OL/DL (Jr.) – The big junior Offensive Lineman is starting to attract D1 attention and for good reason. At 6‘3″ 270-pounds he will be making the switch to left tackle but expect Blackmon to control the line of scrimmage wherever he lines up.

Spencer Westerbeek, WLB/TE (Sr.) – Westerbeek is someone Coach Johnson raved about. With Kaba in the line-up last season Westerbeek was still the one tasked with alignment and play calling. Westerbeek is expected to contine to be the leader of the Dark Horses defensive in 2020.

Jakwan Wilson, RB/LB (Jr.) – Younger brother of Jatiyuhn Wilson, the conference player of the year last year, Jakwan Wilson is a versatile playmaker on both sides of the ball. He played running back, wide receiver and tight end on offense and defensive end, outside and middle linebacker on defense in 2019. He will continue his swiss army knife ways this season for Clinton.

Schedule

Aug. 21 – @ Cape Fear

Aug. 28 – @ East Bladen

Sep. 11 – v.s. J.F. Webb

Sep. 18 – @ Pamlico County

Oct. 2 – v.s. Northside-Jacksonville

Oct. 9 – @ East Duplin

Oct. 16 – v.s. Goldsboro

Oct. 23 – v.s. Wallace-Rose Hill

Oct. 30 – v.s. James Keenan

Nov. 6 – @ Midway

Season Outlook

Clinton should be primed to make another deep run in the 2A playoffs in 2020.

The lost of Kaba and running back J‘Daques Wallace are significant holes but it looks like they will be filled with solid young prospects.

Blake Smith should take the next step at quarterback and Davion Smith, Jakwan Wilson and others will help with the run game.

On the offensive line, the Dark Horses return four guys with starting experience lead by Blackmon.

Coach Johnson also expects the aerial attack to become a bigger factor in the offense.

“When I first got here we barely threw the ball once a quarter,” Johnson said. “Now in year three, I think we have the pieces to make it a consistent part of our offense.”

Williams and Wilson are the two leading receivers returning from last years team but expect some guys from the JV ranks to come in and help the passing game of the Dark Horses.

Defensively, Coach Johnson is confident because of his longtime colleague and friend Dennis McFadden.

“As long as I have him we will be relevant on defense,” Johnson said. “He always has the kids prepared and can translate information to the players quicker than anyone.”

Clinton will have a plethora of guys playing both ways. Westerbeek will align the troops once again this season but he will need help in a tough East Central conference.

Expect the Dark Horses to be battling a top one of the toughest 2A conference in the state.

“I coach in the best 2A conference in the state,” Johnson said. “Every year our conference has state champion contenders, and we have the regional and state appearnaces to back that up.”

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