Some of the storylines surrounding Clever’s 34-6 season-opening loss to Springfield Central rated as a surprise, if not a shock, to the Jays.
Sophomores Brayden Baker and Quintin Lemmer emerged from their backup roles to help get Clever’s offense rolling.
Baker played his first game at quarterback and responded with 10-of-20 passing for 108 yards and a touchdown. He was thrust into action after starting signal-caller Gage Evans sidelined with a shoulder injury.
"I was cold, I had just played on the punt team,” Baker said. “I had to get ready as fast as possible. I had a bit of anxiety. But I got through it and kept grinding.
“I didn't really have any expectations,” he added. “I went out and did my best and hoped for good things.”
Baker only started taking snaps from center in June after former Clever coach Jim Genzler took a job at Cassville and his son, Eli, transferred to the Wildcats. Eli was the Jays’ backup quarterback.
“When Eli moved to Cassville, there was no one else (as backup QB),” Baker said. “Ever since then, I’ve been here.”
Baker went to wide receiver Xavier Robinson repeatedly. Their highlights included a 59-yard pass and a six-yard touchdown pass.
“I’ve been repping with the second-teamers all the time. He's a lot better than the second-teamers,” Baker said. “(Tonight) was amazing. I hadn’t been in this kind of environment.”
Robinson appreciated Baker’s performance.
“He did an outstanding job. I'm very proud of him,” Robinson said. “I like the way he moves around and he can sling the ball. We don't work together much. But I feel like we connected very well.”
Coach Willie Howard suspected Evans re-injured a collarbone and if so, Baker could be at QB for a good portion of the rest of the season.
“It's going to be all hands on deck to try to get him ready,” Howard said “I can't say enough good things about Brayden. I guarantee you he wasn't planning on playing when the night started. He did a good job directing the offense. He's a slick little guy. I remember in elementary P.E. he was always shifty and shaky.”
Likewise, Lemmer was shifty and shaky while rushing for 73 yards on 19 carries. He joined Clever’s offensive huddle in the second quarter in relief of starting running back Austin Scott.
On their first series together, Baker and Lemmer led the Jays to five first downs. They reached the Central 3-yard line, before being stopped.
"Quintin got our running game going,” Howard said. “Austin ran well. We kind of just got a hot hand, Lemmer was grinding and it was hard to get it away from him. He sees the cut. He sometimes sees the cut too fast and gets away from his blockers. But we're proud of him the way he responded.”
Lemmer and his twin brother, Tavis, moved to Clever from South Haven, Mississippi, at the start of their freshman year.
"The Lemmer twins are really good football players,” Howard said. “They have played football their whole lives and have a level of football knowledge that some of our kids don't have.”
““I thought I would play defense tonight. But I didn't expect to play on offense,” Quintin said. “Things happened. (Howard) turned around and yelled my name and I went in. I was glad I didn't know (beforehand). I feel like I would have got nervous.
“It was a big experience. I definitely feel like I got better,” he added. “It was rewarding. I feel a lot more confident now. I earned my spot.”
Clever’s defense kept it a competitive contest for a little more than a half. Scott had a pair of first-half quarterback sacks.
The Jays had a second possession end inside Central’s five-yard line at the end of the first half.
Clever’s defense kept the Jays in the game over the first half and the first five minutes of the third quarter. It was a 13-0 ball game until midway through the third quarter.
Central’s first touchdown on the night came a play after Scott blocked a punt, but the Bulldogs scooped up the loose ball and ran for a first down.
Central’s special teams also factored in the second half, as Jalen Ndonei returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown.
“Our defense was amazing. The guys were flying around,” Howard said. “I've said from day one I can’t guarantee a win, but I will guarantee we'll play hard. We played hard tonight.
"We faced more adversity in one quarter than some teams will face all year,” he added, referring to injuries to Evans, Lucas Peebles and Jack Whitlinger. “Our kids did a good job being alert and not quitting.”
“This wasn't one-sided like last year, when they ran for 304 yards on us with one guy,” Robinson said. “I feel we stepped up. We had more opportunities to score. We feel confident about the way we can play. This is a new beginning because we have a new coaching staff and a new offense.”
Central 34, Clever 6
Central 7 6 7 14 - 34
Clever 0 0 0 6 - 6
SC — Martin 41 run (Phelps kick)
SC — Ndonei 11 pass from Martin (run no good)
SC — Adams 61 run (Phelps kick)
C — Robinson 6 pass from Baker (run no good)
SC — Ndonei 82 kickoff return (Phelps kick)
SC — Cole 68 pass from Martin (Phelps kick)