If you want to fire up Jay Griffin and the Camdenton Lakers, mention the football team’s record of a year ago.
Or maybe not.
“I’m done with that season. I don’t want to hear anything about that,” Griffin said, referring to a 3-7 record of a year ago, the program’s first losing season since 1970. “I’m looking forward. We have a bright future.”
Griffin offered those words Friday night after he helped set the right tone for a new beginning as Camdenton held off the Hillcrest Hornets 39-33 in the season-opener at Schumate Stadium.
From Griffin came 199 yards rushing on 26 carries and four touchdowns as he churned behind the Lakers’ beefy offensive line on a night when Camdenton also survived 121 yards in penalties.
Well, they survived themselves and the Hornets, who refused to quit – they trailed 12-0 early and kept coming – and showed, too, they are eager to write a new chapter a year after suffering through a 1-9 season.
Hillcrest trailed by 18 points, 39-21, after Griffin’s fourth TD came with 4:37 left. But the Hornets got two scores from Joshua Powell, including his 71-yard punt return with only 41 seconds remaining.
Fortunately for Camdenton, sophomore Riley Stidham – a 5-foot-10, 160-pounder wearing No. 78 – leapt for the on-side kick on the front line, grabbed the ball and hung on, allowing the Lakers to milk the final seconds.
“A death grip,” Stidham called it. “They were not getting that ball back.”
It’s to be expected that Camdenton has high expectations, given its rich tradition. But this year is especially important after last year’s stumble. The Lakers, because school doesn’t begin until next Tuesday, have managed to work in several two-a-day practices and fine-tune many parts of a revamped offense.
“Our kids were pretty determined. We’ve been solid in football for a long time,” Camdenton coach Jeff Shore said. “So, yeah, we maybe had a little chip on our shoulder.”
Aiding Griffin was an offensive line that featured two big tackles — 6-foot-5, 300-pound Josh Semau and 6-6, 235-pound Grant Norton — as well as Zach Howery, Wyatt Danuser, Holden Looney, Dylan Kelly and Wes Buckner. Semau, who didn’t play football until just three years ago, was a human plow for Griffin, who scored on runs of 3, 40, 6 and 7 yards.
“It’s a brotherhood. We look into each other’s eyes and know we’ve got each other’s backs,” Semau said. “If we someone not doing well, we pick them up.”
While Camdenton was upbeat, there were few slumped shoulders in the Hillcrest locker room.
The Hornets had a number of learning experiences Friday night, yes. For one, they lost four fumbles, including three inside Camdenton territory. One big miss was one play after a Haden Parton-to-Erik Savage, 35-yard pass play that took Hillcrest to the 1. Camdenton took the ensuring drive 91 yards for a TD in 12 plays, building a 12-0 edge.
Still, Hillcrest kept coming, with Savage and Powell looking like the exciting playmakers Hillcrest has fielded over the past decade.
Despite Griffin’s 40-yard TD run pushing Camdenton to a 27-13 lead before halftime, Hillcrest answered in the third quarter when Savage scored on a 48-yard TD run – Powell opened it with a great, sideline-sealing block – to bring Hillcrest to within 27-21.
“All summer, we were working on new plays and everybody bought in,” said Savage, a quarterback-receiver. “It was great to see everybody buy in. To see that turn out so well – to move the ball – is really reassuring.”
“In high school football, you can’t turn the ball over four or five times and expect to win. Those things killed us.”
True, Hillcrest coach John Beckham said. But those clearly are correctable mistakes, from the way he spoke in the postgame locker room.
Malachi Beckham, who scored a 6-yard touchdown run early, played through an ankle problem most of the game. The team also called on sophomores Logan Swearengin and Cyrus Moil to start on the offensive line, with Swearengin having been the freshman quarterback last year. Savage finished with 132 yards rushing and 90 yards receiving.
“I was proud of our kids. We were behind the whole game but we kept coming back,” Beckham said. “It’s what we talked about all summer – you’ve got to earn your wins. Everybody is home in the summertime trying to get better. I think we have a few kids that can make some plays.”