Clements kept its playoff hopes alive Thursday at Hall Stadium, Rangers beat Elkins 27-25 in a thrilling back-and-forth contest.
Clements head coach Bobby Darnell felt the win was exactly what his team needed heading into the later part of the season.
“There’s nobody that plays like an 0-5 team and the records don’t matter when you are coached as well as (Elkins is),” Coach Darnell said. “I knew those kids would be ready to go and it's a rivalry so the energy was going to be there.”
Special teams played a factor early for the Knights after a snap sailed over the head of Clements punter Lyle Link, putting Elkins at the five-yard line for their opening drive. Running back Christian Peluse scored more points in the opening minutes than his team did last week at Bush with a powerful four-yard run.
Clements quarterback Micah Darnell led a swift drive that included a third-and-15 conversion, ending on a four-yard score by the Rangers’ Avery Clark.
Elkins’ defense continued its strong performance, forcing two turnovers in the first half with a Daron Smith and an Ashton Payne fumble recovery.
The interception resulted in quarterback Isaiah Smith’s first score on an option run from one yard out to retake the seven-point lead.
Penalties were a constant issue for the Knights throughout the first half committing eight in the first two quarters. None were more crucial by a holding call that negated a 33-yard touchdown catch by Avion Stewart. A few plays later, Rangers’ cornerback Junior Onidepe intercepted Smith for the defense’s first turnover.
The Knights also committed a late hit to extend a Rangers drive just before halftime.
An arching 33-yard pass to Patrick Wilson on fourth-and-10 and a 10-yard run by Micah Darnell tied the game at 14.
The offenses for both teams stalled during the third quarter as the Clements quarterback went out early in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
Backup quarterback Gunner Chenier did not deter any confidence from his head coach as he put the ball in his hands with two fourth-down conversions in the final minutes.
The first came on a fourth-and-12 with a 32-yard catch and run to Smith that led to a four-yard score by JR Mirelles to go up 21-14.
Moments later, Tyton Chanthalack returned an interception for a pick-six to give the Rangers an extended lead. However, a blocked kick and return by Elkins's Dexter Jackson kept the game within reach at 27-16.
The Knights attempted their comeback late in the ballgame, converting a safety off another high snap in the end zone followed by Smith’s second touchdown run to cut the lead to two.
Coach Darnell trusted his sophomore quarterback to end any comeback hopes and was rewarded with Chenier’s fourth-and-four conversion to Marcus Darnell to seal the win.
Coach Darnell credited Chenier’s relief role completing five of his six passes for 57 yards.
“When it came to winning time and winning plays on offense and defense,” Coach Darnell said. “It was completely expected and that’s how we prepare. We always preach that next-man-up and that’s what these first games have been about.”
Elkins head coach Dennis Brantley was proud of his team’s effort, but ultimately the Knights made too many mistakes.
“We got a lot of young guys making a lot of young mistakes and we will try to fix it,” Brantley said. “We will not give up. These kids put their heart and soul into this and they are going to bounce back. We learn not only about athletics but for life. Sometimes in life, you fall and we just gotta keep trying to get up until we get it right.”
The loss drops the Knights to 0-6, 0-3 on the disappointing season while Clements leads the district at 5-1, 2-1.
The Knights continue to search for their first victory against Dulles at Legacy Stadium at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Rangers hope to stay hot as the road team at Hall Stadium when they play Travis 6 p.m. Saturday.