Clarke left with ‘what ifs’ after playoff loss
BERRYVILLE — There will be plenty of wondering “what if” for the Clarke County football team this offseason.
From their two turnovers — each of which resulted in a Brunswick touchdown — to coming up inches short on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles will have plenty of material to work with when thinking what could have been.
But the biggest question of all was one that cropped up just three plays into Clarke County’s 21-14 loss to the Bulldogs in the third round of the 2A East Region playoffs Saturday.
What if Josh Dulaney hadn’t gotten hurt?
What if Clarke’s leading rusher and tackler had not spent all but the first two minutes of the biggest game of the season stuck on the sidelines?
“Josh was our leading tackler, he was the Bull Run District [Defensive] Player of the Year, so to say that it didn’t have an impact [on the game] wouldn’t be true,” said Clarke County coach Chris Parker.
Nobody would argue with that.
With the Eagles taking the opening kickoff, Dulaney rushed for four yards on the first play from scrimmage, watched teammate Kasey Lake rush for three of his own, and then took a handoff on third-and-three from the 41-yard line.
Finding a hole on the left side, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound running back burst through the line for five yards before being upended by a Brunswick defender.
It would be the last play Dulaney would take part in.
“My head slammed against the ground [after getting tackled]. It wasn’t anybody hitting me, I just hit the ground,” said Dulaney, who was attended to by trainers on the field before getting up and walking off under his own power. “I thought I was going to go back [in the game] after awhile, but the trainer told me I couldn’t go back in.”
Dulaney squatted on the sideline for a bit with the Eagles’ training staff around him before eventually making his way to the bench. By the end of the first half he had a jacket over his shoulders and when Clarke County came out of the locker room to start the third quarter his shoulder pads and helmet were gone.
His absence on the field was noticed throughout the game.
The Eagles actually scored on their very next drive on a 40-yard run by senior Wayne Rouss, who had missed the previous two games with a shoulder injury, but instead of kicking the extra point, they opted to go for a two-point conversion.
Why? Because Dulaney is also the team’s kicker.
Lake’s two-point run up the middle would be stuffed on a play that would normally have gone to the bigger Dulaney, who had an area-best 1,612 yards rushing coming into the game, most of them coming between the tackles.
“At the wingback position that I usually play I usually run outside, but once Josh went out it was full tilt running inside,” said Lake, who finished with a team-high 74 yards rushing on 24 carries. “It was tough because they’re a hard-hitting team and Josh would have been hard to stop, but we just had to step up.”
That was certainly the case on defense, where the Eagles never even ran a play with Dulaney (team-best 140 tackles) lining up at his usual linebacker position.
Clarke County put together an admirable performance against Brunswick’s run-heavy attack, but there was no denying that his presence was missed.
“All year long Josh has been a guy who always works very hard and helps us all out there, he calls the plays usually and takes charge,” said fellow linebacker Andy King. “With him out all 11 guys had to step and I thought everyone did a good job, but obviously we missed him.
“You could see it out there on certain plays he usually would have made just because of his athletic ability and they just weren’t made today.”
Despite the loss of arguably their best player though, the Eagles made a game of it.
Down 21-6 early in the fourth quarter, Lake powered his way in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and quarterback Sean McDonald found Rouss for the two-point conversion to make it a one-score game.
Sophomore Jordon Turner then stripped Brunswick’s Xavier Burke of the ball on a run up the middle and recovered the resulting fumble to give Clarke County possession at the Bulldog 38.
Ten plays later the Eagles would face another fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but Lake would be stopped right at the goal line on a run that probably would have gone to Dulaney had he been in the game.
It will be hard not to wonder how the game would have gone had Dulaney been able to play from start to finish, but King felt like the Eagles had their chances to win it without him.
“We didn’t lose because of any calls or anybody getting injured, today there were just certain plays we didn’t make and that was the difference,” King said. “But I’m proud of all the subs who came in and the young guys who stepped up. We played hard, we just came up short.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1