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CENTRAL -- Clinton High School has much to gain and more to learn from a disaster in the Class 3A playoffs Friday night.

Daniel, undefeated and the reigning 3A champion, turned the Red Devils every which way but loose in a 52-7 thrashing that sent the Lions scratching and clawing into the Upstate finals against Chester (9-3).

“Seniors, we love you,” head coach Corey Fountain said to his team. “This does not define who you are, and it doesn’t define us as a team.

“Nobody wanted this to happen. We’ve just got to get better.”

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An 11-2 record was fantastic, particularly for a team that was 3-3 in COVID-impaired 2020 and 4-7 in 2019, Fountain’s 1st year at the helm. The Red Devils climbed diligently with nary a slip, but Daniel’s mastery proved that Clinton was not quite ready for the summit.

Words barely describe the Lions’ utter domination. Read ‘em and weep.

Daniel: gained 477 yards to Clinton’s 159; 142 net rushing yards to 88; 335 passing yards to 71; and, honest to gosh, 28:16 time of possession to 19:44.

With 4:41 remaining in the game, Clinton’s Davis Wilson hit Wilson Wages for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Keegan Fortman added the extra point. Thus was a shutout avoided.

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Wilson Wages scored the lone Clinton TD.

Wilson’s TD strike was the last of his 3 completions in 18 attempts. He threw for 71 yards and had 3 intercepted. The loss fell no more on him than anyone else. Daniel (12-0) took the lead after the 1st minute, 41 seconds, when the Lions’ superb quarterback, Trent Pearman, hit Mussin Kelley on the Lions’ 3rd play for a 77-yard touchdown on 3rd down and 13 to go.

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Pearman completed 14 of 20 passes for 293 yards and 4 touchdowns. The backup, Blaine Simons, was 3-for-5 for 42.

The game’s leading rusher was Clinton’s Jykorie Gary, who rushed for 46 yards in 11 carries. Wilson rushed for 35.

The game’s most agonizing play -- and it was a tight competition -- occurred with 1:37 remaining in the 1st half. Gary stripped Pearman of the ball at about the 2-yard line and had a chance to recover it in the end zone. A Daniel lineman, Watson Young, wrested the loose ball away from Gary, and Shane Forrester’s kick -- he made 7 of them … and a 26-yard field goal -- boosted the Lions’ halftime lead to 35-0.

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Pearson’s 4 touchdown passes weren’t cheapies: 77 yards to Kelley and 46, 55 and 41 to Eli Merck, who caught a total of 6 for 169.

What the outcome indicated to Fountain was simply, “We’ve got a long way to go.”

The Red Devils came a long way to get here.

“Daniel is really good,” Fountain said. “All the credit goes to them. We couldn’t respond. We’ve got to go back to work, to get bigger and stronger, but this one game didn’t define these guys. They were great, but these guys kept fighting. … No complaining. We’re growing. We’ve just got to get better.”

Daniel head coach Jeff Fruster chalked it up to “collective effort.”

He added, “We put together a game plan … and I thought they came through at that challenge. You can’t just pick one player or several players. I was just impressed with our overall execution across the board.”

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Daniel coach Jeff Fruster (right) with Tommy Spangler.

As a side note, Fruster played for Tommy Spangler, now a Clinton defensive assistant, at Presbyterian College.

“I knew he was going to game-plan us,” said Fruster. “I knew he was going to put a lot of effort into it. It’s always a little special, a little different, when you get to go against people who helped shape you. I can’t thank that man enough for the opportunities he gave me for four years at PC.

“He definitely helped shape the man that I am.”