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Clayton looks to rebound after late-season skid in 2016

Football: West Johnston vs. Clayton (Oct. 21, 2016)

Jul, 28 2017, 4:47 PM

Clayton opened last season with a hot 6-1 start, but the team ran into a brick wall in Week 8 against rival Garner that sparked a five-game losing streak to end the year.

The Comets averaged 35.8 points per game heading into the matchup with Garner, but the Trojans held Clayton scoreless and scored 50 points of their own, the most lopsided loss for Clayton of the regular season.

Clayton found pay dirt only twice in the final five weeks and was outscored by a combined score of 197-17.

“Last season ended with a struggle, but we learned from some things,” said Clayton head coach Hunter Jenks. “I think the most important thing is that the returners, it motivated them and propelled us into an offseason that I’ve been pleased with.”

Clayton star wide receiver Devin Carter tallied 15 touchdowns through the first seven games, and recorded his second 200-yard receiving performance against Harnett Central one game prior to the Garner matchup, but the rising senior was held at bay for the rest of the season.

Carter failed to tally a 100 yards in a game over the final five, but he did come within five yards with nine catches for 95 yards against Rolesville.

The Comets battled injuries as well, and at the most important position on the field — quarterback.

Clayton began the season with Landen Leiser under center, who formed one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the state with Carter, but the he went down with an injury in the early weeks of the season and never returned the same.

Leiser threw for more than 300 yards in each of his first three starts and tallied 14 touchdowns. He returned against Garner but compiled 321 yards, five interceptions and no touchdowns in his final four games of the year.

Sophomore Austin Cagle and senior John Ross Parrish manned the quarterback position in Leiser’s stead, combining for 281 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

“Last season did not end well, but I think we used it the right way in the offseason to carry into this season,” Jenks said.

Clayton will also have a new challenge this year, dropping from 4A designation to 3A, joining the Greater Neuse Conference with Cleveland, East Wake, Smithfield-Selma, South Johnston and West Johnston.

“We’re pretty familiar with our teams in the conference,” Jenks said. “If you look playoff-wise, I think 3AA is going to be the toughest bracket in the state. Right now we’re just focusing on getting better … if we can just continue to get better every day, then we’ll see how it goes.”

Garner won’t be joining Clayton in 3A, but the Comets will not have to wait long for a shot at redemption in 2017. Clayton open its season slate against the Trojans, and this time the game will be in Johnston County.

Despite the tough task to start his second campaign with the Comets, Jenks says he’s comfortable with the group he has, and is appreciative of the support among the Clayton community.

“Our team is tight-knit; they’re all friends,” he said. “There’s no squabbling or arguing. It’s fun to go out there every day and get better … I think where we are as a team and as a program is headed in the right direction.”

web_editor : Jon Stout