Clarke runs over Madison, 40-20
MADISON — For some teams the wet, muddy conditions Friday night may have meant having to simplify the playbook and throw out a large portion of the usual game plan.
For the Clarke County football team a sloppy field and constant drizzle simply means getting back to what it does best.
As the only area team in action — the Sherando at James Wood and Millbrook at Jefferson (W.Va.) games were postponed to Monday due to the weather — the Eagles showed the best way to beat an opponent in less than ideal conditions.
Run the ball. Run the ball. Run the ball.
With puddles lining the sidelines and players slipping and sliding all over the field, Clarke County put their single-wing offense to work, piling up 449 yards on the ground on the way to a 40-20 road victory over Madison County.
That the Eagles (6-0, 3-0 Bull Run District) ran the ball effectively was not a surprise. They entered the game averaging an area-best 262 yards per game. That they did so while attempting just two passes all game, neither of which were completed, showed just how potent their offense could be, even when the opposition knows what’s coming.
“We knew coming into this game with the rain that we weren’t going to be able to throw it a lot, so we needed to get our ground game going,” said senior running back Josh Dulaney, who returned from a knee injury that kept him out of the final three quarters against Warren County last week to rush for a game-high 196 yards on 22 carries.
“We were very happy with how we ran the ball. Obviously it showed that our run game is still our bread and butter and we can run it against any team when we need to.”
They definitely needed to on Friday.
Through the first five games of the season the Eagles had featured a more diverse offense than in prior years, even lining up in a spread look at times. But with the wet conditions Friday — there were eight total fumbles in the game — Clarke County kept it on the ground and reaped the benefits.
Senior Kasey Lake opened up the scoring with a 47-yard run around the left end, Dulaney followed with an 82-yard sprint down the right sideline and junior quarterback Sean McDonald added scores from 14 and nine yards out in the fourth quarter.
All three Eagles had at least 95 yards rushing and a fourth, junior Wayne Rouss, finished with 62 yards and two touchdowns of his own.
“We’re fortunate that we can do other things [with our offense], but we didn’t do as much of that tonight. We stayed with the single-wing and our guys did what they needed to do,” said Clarke County coach Chris Parker. “[The game] showed the playmakers we have and the nature of the single-wing. We’re blessed to have a lot of players who can score at any time and they’re tailor-made for it.”
Things started slowly for the Eagles, with Rouss fumbling the opening kickoff. But Madison County junior quarterback James Graves, who was returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out last week, fumbled on a handoff exchange and Clarke County quickly capitalized.
Taking over at their own 15-yard line, the Eagles churned out three first downs to get near midfield and then Lake (10 carries for 96 yards) did the rest, bursting through a hole on the left side and outrunning a Mountaineer defender to make it 7-0.
After Clarke senior linebacker Andy King stopped Madison County running back Joe Gentry in his tracks on third down to force a punt, Dulaney went 82 yards untouched on the second play of the ensuing drive to put the Eagles up 14-0 and make it look like a rout was imminent.
But the Mountaineers, who were playing their Homecoming game, weren’t ready to give in just yet and Graves (11 for 19 for 192 yards) delivered the first of his two big touchdown passes on the night, hitting senior Ashton Weakley on the very next play for a 55-yard touchdown.
A late score from Rouss from nine yards out with 32 seconds left in the half gave Clarke County some cushion heading into halftime up 21-7, but the Mountaineers marched right down the field on the opening drive of the second half, with Graves punching it in himself to cut the deficit to 21-13.
“In the second half I thought we played a lot better offensively and were able to do some things,” said Madison County coach Stuart Dean. “But we didn’t play four quarters. It goes back to the fact that we never stopped them consistently defensively.”
The score would remain close heading into the fourth quarter, but an Eagle offense that had over 300 yards rushing in the first half alone finally put things away on the ground.
Up 27-20 after another Rouss touchdown and another long connection between Graves and Weakley (seven catches for 164 yards), Clarke County put together a 13-play, 65-yard drive that included a big fourth-down conversion from Dulaney and was capped by McDonald (13 carries for 95 yards) rumbling 14 yards up the middle for the score.
“That was a change of momentum right there. It’s fourth down and if we stop them we get the ball back and get a chance to move it down the field [and tie the score],” Dean said. “But they’re able to get the first down and then end up scoring and that kind of put the nail in the coffin right there.”
Rouss would pick off Graves on the next Mountaineer possession for the fourth of five Madison County turnovers in the game, and McDonald’s second score of the night, this time from nine yards out, put the game out of reach.
“That [13-play drive] was huge just like the one where we scored the touchdown at the end of the first half was,” Parker said. “That was still a game in the fourth quarter. We had to gut it out.”
As solid as their offense was, the Eagle defense was equally impressive, limiting Madison County to just 77 rushing yards on 22 carries and sacking Graves three times.
It all added up to the sixth win in as many tries for the Eagles, who were ranked second in the latest VHSL 2A East Region power ratings and will head into a big showdown with Central next week.
“This is where we want to be right now,” Parker said. “Obviously there’s still some things we can improve on, but we did what we had to do tonight.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1