Game of the Week: Eagles host Brentsville in home opener
BERRYVILLE — For the Clarke County football team, there’s plenty of reasons to be excited about tonight — the Eagles are not only playing their home opener, but it’s also doubling as their homecoming game.
Though it’s always the goal to win, the motivation to succeed and send the fans home happy is probably never higher than it is for the homecoming. Ordinarily, tonight’s foe would be the perfect opponent for such a game, but don’t let the 32-game losing streak fool you.
Brentsville has not won a game since beating Kettle Run 17-14 on Sept. 3, 2010. And since winning that game, the Tigers haven’t had very many opportunities to win games.
Since then, Brentsville has been outscored by an average of 38.3 to 6.9. In the 29-game span from the Kettle Run game in 2010 to the season finale in 2012, the Tigers only came within two touchdowns of a team twice, both in 2010. Their closest loss was 17 points in 2011, and their closest defeat last year was 28 points.
But this year’s Tigers team has already scored 65 points, surpassing Brentsville’s point total for the entire 2011 and 2012 seasons and just 10 shy of what they managed in 2010.
Maybe the Tigers aren’t riding as high as Clarke County heading into tonight’s 7:30 game at Wilbur M. Feltner Stadium — the Eagles are 2-0 after outscoring their first two opponents 81-6 — but it’s clear that Brentsville (0-3) is a different team under first-year head coach Ryan Smith.
“Any time you get fresh blood in there, sometimes that gives you a spark,” said Clarke County coach Chris Parker, who will get junior quarterback Sean McDonald back tonight after he missed last week’s 47-6 win over Stonewall Jackson with a shoulder injury. “They are better. We’ve seen them on film. They’re 0-3, but their last game was a great indicator of how much better they are.”
Though each of their opponents thus far lost several key players from last year, the Tigers have given three programs that have experienced success in recent years all they can handle.
Brentsville opened the season with a 20-14 loss to 2-0 Manassas Park, which beat Clarke County last year; was within 17-14 of Warren County (2-1) in the third quarter before the Wildcats pulled away for a 37-14 win; and last week, the Tigers led a Skyline team that beat Warren County late before the Hawks (2-1) scored a touchdown in the final minute to win 40-37.
Smith, who was an assistant at Woodbridge High School for six years before coming to Brentsville, said the biggest thing he’s worked on since coming to the Tigers is attitude.
“We stressed that there was a right way and wrong way to do things, and doing the wrong things is not acceptable,” Smith said. “We want to be disciplined in everything we do.”
Smith said the players have responded enthusiastically. He said he wouldn’t have been surprised if some frustration creeped in after last week’s loss — Brentsville was trailing 33-16 when the Tigers rallied to take the lead — but he said it’s just motivated them to push even harder.
For Clarke County, it was a win that fueled its fire to start executing on a higher level. Eagles coach Chris Parker wasn’t happy with the team’s three turnovers and seven penalties in the season opener against Berkeley Springs, but Parker said Clarke County “never let up” in defeating Stonewall Jackson, rolling up 451 yards to the Generals’ 148.
Four hundred of the Eagles’ yards came on the ground, with senior running back Josh Dulaney recording 203 yards and three touchdowns. Clarke County did have 11 penalties, but did not commit any turnovers.
“I thought everybody did their assignments a lot better, and the blocking was a lot better, so we had lanes for Josh to run his long touchdowns on,” said senior linebacker Andy King while standing next to Dulaney.
Parker said the Eagles recorded 36 pancake blocks, which the 14th-year Clarke County head coach adds is the most his team has ever had in a game.
The key for an Eagles team that has given up 110 yards per game so far will be slowing down Brentsville’s offense. The Tigers are averaging a solid 310 yards per game behind the efforts of quarterback Richard Harryman (31 of 58 for 295 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions) and running backs Fuzz Loa (38 rushes for 233 yards) and Christian Aldea (35 rushes for 213 yards).
Much like Clarke with its single-wing offense, Smith said the Tigers also like to use misdirection with their offense. Smith said the Tigers simply don’t have the speed to line up and go four-wide every play, but Brentsville is conditioned enough to go no-huddle, which the Tigers will go with if they feel the defense isn’t properly reading what they’re doing.
“It’s like an unbalanced line, sort of like what we do,” Parker said. “They run multiple formations, so we really have to be focused on what our assignments are.
“One time they’ll have an inverted bone look in the backfield, then they’ll be in the spread. Our defensive personnel, we’re going to have to be focused and on our toes on where to line up.”
Parker said the Tigers have size up front, but he feels the Eagles can match up.
Brentsville will likely need to score some points, because the Tigers haven’t shown they can consistently make stops.
“We need to avoid giving up big plays,” said Smith, whose defense is going against a back in Dulaney who had three 40-plus-yard touchdowns last week.
The big plays will be nice, but for the Eagles, it’s more important they show the same relentless attitude as last week.
“Our coaches have been telling us it’s going to be a four-quarter game,” King said. “We’re trying to be in our best shape this week, keep an open mind, and not be distracted by the homecoming activities this week.
“We’ve got to play them just like any other opponent. Hopefully we’ll come out hard and put it on them.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1