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2018 Falcons: The end of an era?

Teamís 16 seniors compiled the most impressive 3-year record in school history
Posted 2018-12-06 By Larry Beazley

    Central High School’s run for a state football championship ended Friday.

    After winning 11 of 12 games, including two in the post season, the Falcons lost at East Rockingham, 44-29. It was the second time in three years that the Eagles had short-circuited Central’s pursuit of a state title.

    Worse perhaps than the loss of a single game will be the impact on Central’s football future in the years ahead.

    Sixteen players will graduate in the spring leaving Central’s 2019 team woefully short on talent.

    Those 16 players emerged from an undefeated jayvee team three seasons ago and compiled the best football records in Central’s 58-year history.

    The 16 seniors were part of a 50-player jayvee team that went undefeated, outscoring opponents 322 to 57.  This was the beginning of what would be the best football class in Central history.

    Quarterback Zeb Dyer, running backs Shane Watson and Hunter Mullins, fullback Zach Abrams, wide receivers Kyle Clanton and T.J. Williams, tight end Christian Spitler, linemen Declan Franklin, Grayson Manning, Jake France, Ezra Smith, Zach Helmick and Neddy Portillo, and punter and safety Nick Houghton all were part of that jayvee team.

    A season after joining the Central varsity, Clanton made first team all-region and all-conference at wide receiver and kick returner, while Franklin at lineman, and Abrams at linebacker made second team all-district.

    By then, Coach Mike Yew and long-time assistants Rich Shockey and Rowdy Hoover knew well the level of talent in their charge.

    The Falcons at once had speed, size and confidence, exceeding expectations over their three-year varsity career, winning 31 games, losing only six.

     In their sophomore season they went 9-3 before losing in the second round of the playoffs to East Rockingham.

    As juniors, the team went 11-1, losing in the second round to Robert E. Lee. A season later, after losing only to state champion Riverheads on the road, the Falcons fell in the regional final to East Rockingham.

    As a junior, Dyer passed for more than 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns.  That same season, Clanton scored 27 touchdowns on receptions, running, kick and punt returns, and interception returns with one two-point conversion for a total of 164 points.

    Hunter Mullins ran for almost 700 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Shane Watson gained more than 1,300 yards, 17 touchdowns, a two-point conversion for 104 points.

    On defense, Abrams was credited with 70-plus tackles, two sacks and an interception. Franklin had 70 tackles and seven sacks, while Houghton had 35 tackles and two interceptions.  Clanton had an interception and 38 tackles.

    Clanton made all-region at four positions (wide receiver, kick returner, defense back, and punt returner). Franklin made first team all-region offensive and defensive lineman, Watson first team all-region running back, and Zach Abrams first team all-region linebacker.

    A year later as seniors, the 16 continued to re-write Central’s football record book.

    Clanton was selected the all-district player of the year on offense. He had more than 1,300 combined rushing and receiving yards, scoring 27 touchdowns that included punt, kickoff and pass interception returns for scores. Franklin was selected the all-district defensive player of the year with more than 90 tackles 32 of them solo, 12 for losses and nine sacks.

     Chosen first team all-district were offensive linemen Grayson Manning and Jack France, offensive running back Watson, Nick Houghton and Christian Spitler.

    Dyer threw for more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns and was chosen second team all-district.

    Though their high school careers have ended, some of the Falcons will play in the first Valley Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-Star Game Dec. 16 at James Madison University’s Bridgeforth Stadium

    Coach Yew will be an assistant coach for that game.

    Dyer, Watson, Clanton, France, Franklin and Abrams, six of the 16 who played on that unbeaten jayvee team four years ago, will suit up for the all-star game.