Pam Pack rallying around running backs

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS IGNITE THE OFFENSE: Senior Clinton Pope has rushed for over 260 yards in each of the last two contests, both victories.

IGNITE THE OFFENSE: Senior Clinton Pope has rushed for over 260 yards in each of the last two contests, both victories.

Following a disappointing 0-2 start, Washington has turned its season around with two impressive wins over two tough opponents in D.H. Conley on Sept. 4 and Northeastern last Friday. A portion of the recent success can be attributed to the recalibration of the defense, various personnel changes that have strengthened the front seven and taken some of the pressure off the secondary. But offensively, it’s been the unquestioned production of the backfield that’s provided the Pam Pack with a jolt of adrenaline heading into the final stretch of a tough nonconference slate.

After recording just 51 yards on 16 carries through the first two weeks, Clinton Pope is experiencing a resurgence comparable to recent graduate Markel Spencer, who rushed for more than 5,000 yards in three full varsity seasons. Confidence, more than anything else, can be attributed to Pope’s performance through the Pam Pack’s two wins. He’s hitting the gaps, moving well laterally and showcasing chart-topping speed that’s leaving opposing defenses in the dust.

Against Conley, Pope’s 297 rushing yards were the most by a running back under head coach Sport Sawyer. Two weeks later, he followed with a 262-yard, two-touchdown showing against Northeastern, a team with a sizable front seven.

Supplementing Pope in the offense has been Jarquez Keyes, a senior who has recorded 286 yards on 36 carries through the first four games.

The pair has worked efficiently and adapted to the offense’s various personnel changes, including at quarterback, where Tripp Barfield has excelled in the role of game manger for Sawyer.

“They believe in themselves a little bit more because we have a lot of guys at new positions,” Sawyer said. “Clinton is running the ball hard, two great games back-to-back weeks. We also have to learn the personnel to put them in the right place … We moved some guys around on defense as well, so it’s just about putting the pieces in the right places.”

Sharwon Staton, who lost the quarterback job after a 26-7 loss to Tarboro in Week 2, has also been a surprising addition to the backfield. Staton carried the ball seven times for 105 yards and two touchdowns against the Yellowjackets last week. Sawyer, who commended the junior on accepting the new role, now has another weapon at his disposal.

This week, leading up to a showdown with undefeated Kinston, the coaching staff is looking to add different aspects to the offense, fine tune the defense and build upon what was a dominant performance against the Yellowjackets, a 41-0 victory.

“Right now we have to look at why a few plays stalled and we have to get our passing game going I have to change some thinking on my end to get that going on because I think Tripp and the receivers can do it. Defensively, we have to get better each week as well.”

Washington travels to Kinston on Friday to take on the Vikings. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.