With four weeks to go in the regular season, Clarke County coach Chris Parker was pretty realistic about his team's goal — win out and get a home playoff game in the Region 2B playoffs.
With one game left at Rappahannock County on Friday the Eagles are heavy favorites to win their fourth straight and should achieve their other goal.
When the latest VHSL power rankings came out Monday, Clarke County (7-2, 5-1 in the Bull Run District) was second, a jump of two places. The Eagles gutted out a 10-7 win over Page County and benefited when Luray was upset by an improving East Rockingham squad last Friday.
While no one is going to catch unbeaten Stuarts Draft for the top spot, Clarke County appears a lock to finish in the Top 4, which will guarantee a home regional game.
“It's great,” Parker said of being ranked No. 2. “We definitely want to host a playoff game. I know we have another week to go and things may change one way or the other, but I'd like to think that we'd still host.”
The Eagles' power ranking will probably take a bit of a hit because of their opponent this week. Rappahannock, a Class 1 team, is 1-8. Since winning their second game of the season, the Panthers have been outscored 369-13 in seven consecutive losses. They've been blanked in five of those seven losses, including five of the last six.
How do the Eagles approach facing an opponent that is obviously struggling?
On Mondays, Parker and his staff go over the scouting report with the players and they did not sugarcoat anything about Rappahannock or what they expected throughout the week leading up to the game.
“I just told them, 'You guys are smart guys. All of the coaches, we're not going to try to put smoke over your eyes. We're much better than this team. They are struggling, athletically, strength-wise, the whole nine yards. But as an athlete and as football players, we're going to approach this week like any other week. We're going to practice hard,"” Parker said.
And while Clarke County doesn't know its future opponent, preparation for the playoffs is still key.
“I'm not one to really look forward to any other games,” Parker said. “But to work hard this week is not only obviously going to help you for your last game against Rappahannock County, but also for the first round of the playoffs.”
To that extent, Parker said his club will take a business-like approach against the Panthers.
“We're going to approach the game and play tough football, exhibit sportsmanship and let the chips fall after that,” Parker said. “We have to do what we have to do. It's just that they are the 10th on our schedule. It happened to be that way this year. That's the only way you can think about it.”
Beside that, Parker admits last week's 10-7 win over Page County wasn't exactly the Eagles' best effort, especially on offense. Clarke County had three turnovers and fumbled twice more in the contest as the offense managed just 226 total yards, its second worst total of the season.
“We were happy with the 'W,' and I told them that's the bottom line, but we weren't really happy with how we played to be honest,” Parker said. “The ball hit the ground too many times. We had too many missed tackles and missed blocks. It was a lot of different things. That's why we grade our players. We grade every play of every game.”
Defensively, the Eagles have been tough to score on since falling 35-34 to Luray. They've allowed just 13 points over the last three games, including just seven to a Page County team that had scored 82 the previous week.
“I think our kids are pretty tough football players,” Parker said of a defense that is led by linebackers Sam Brumback (99 tackles), Cody Sowers (93) and Danny Lyman (4 interceptions). "… I think that we are healthy and our guys play tough. I'd like to think we have good game plans.”
Parker has plans for what he'd like to see tonight from his squad.
“We set some goals to make sure that our guys perform the way they are supposed to and not have the ball bouncing around everywhere and playing sloppy,” he said. “I expect a shutout and a lot of points.”