By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Clinton did not get the start it wanted Friday night against Mississippi Athletic Conference-leading Pleasant Valley.
It took the Spartans (8-0) just 13 seconds to take the lead as Pleasant Valley junior Nick Slavens returned the opening kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown.
“To get the opening kickoff and crack it like that kind of set the tone in the first half,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said. “I thought we maybe dropped our head a little bit.”
That letdown cost the River Kings (2-6) as Pleasant Valley took a 28-0 halftime lead en route to a 35-0 victory.
“I was really proud of our kids,” Camp said. “We came out and hit hard. We were really aggressive in the second half and played a lot better, more confident.”
After being a major weakness early in the season, the River Kings defense has continued to improve.
Heading into the game, one focus for the Clinton defense was limiting the running of Pleasant Valley quarterback Brady Letney.
Camp said he thought his team did a pretty good job of that. Letney — who averaged more than 100 yards rushing a game and 8.5 yards a carry — was held to 52 yards on nine carries.
“We’ve been getting better,” Camp said. “I think with the surge up front, our linemen are doing a good job. Our backers are rolling. We are doing some good things defensively.”
Letney did pass for a season-high 130 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown strike to AJ Smith, which put the Spartans ahead 28-0 with less than a minute left in the first half.
“They threw the ball well and caught it,” Camp said. “They had a couple of nice plays, but for the most part, they had to earn it. The defense did some things really well.”
On the opposite side, Clinton’s offense — which was a strength early in the season — was shut out for the first time this season and gained only 116 yards.
“We struggled,” Camp said. “A couple of times, we shot ourselves in the foot with a penalty or a mental mistakes. They were adjusting and really coming off the edge. We’ve got to make sure we pick people up. We’re trying to crack with receivers. We were moving some people around. It was giving us a bad angle and we tried to adjust it.”
Part of the adjustment was going into the Wildcat formation, run by twins Dustin and Alex Caldwell.
It worked for a while and Dustin Caldwell was Clinton’s leading rusher, but the River Kings could not sustain it.
“Like most Wildcats, it was temporary, not a fix for the whole time,” Camp said. “Our kids played hard. We did some things well. We just didn’t get it in the end zone when we needed to.”
Another positive for Clinton was its kickoff returns. Dustin Caldwell returned one 50 yards to Pleasant Valley’s 45. Alex Caldwell also had a return of more than 30 yards.
“I thought our kickoff return team did a really fine job,” Camp said. “We’ve gotten our people on theirs and created a seam. Those two guys, they’ll stick it in there pretty hard. Really what it comes down to a lot of times is they’re the not fastest kids on the field. They run hard and they’ve had some great returns. Ryan Driscoll and the couple kids right in front of them do a really nice job of creating a wedge.”
Pleasant Valley’s win combined with a North Scott 47-42 victory over Muscatine, gave the Spartans the outright MAC title.
The River Kings need a win next Friday against Bettendorf. With a win over the 5-3 Bulldogs, Clinton has a chance at a playoff berth. A loss and the season is over.
“I was impressed with the kids that they came out and played hard in the second half,” Camp said. “That’s leading up to now a one-game season. If you win, you move on. You can see their heads pick up when you put it that way. We’ve got to go out and do this. We told them if you’re close, you’ve got to get healthy and get back. We need everybody to buy in.”
PLEASANT VALLEY 35, CLINTON 0
Pleasant Valley 7 21 0 7 — 35
Clinton 0 0 0 0 — 0
PV - Nick Slavens 81 kickoff return (Sam Martin kick), 11:47
PV - Dustin Beswick 3 run (Martin kick), 11:52
PV - Brady Letney 12 run (Martin kick), 5:47
PV - A.J. Smith 29 pass from Letney (Martin kick), 0:52
PV - L.J. Redmond 5 run (Martin kick), 10:29
First downs 16 8
Total net yards 353 116
Rushes-yards 34-223 29-72
Passing yards 130 44
Comp-Att-Int. 9-13-0 6-10-1
Fumbles-lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 4-30 5-39
RUSHING — PV, L.J. Redmond 14-69, Brady Letney 9-52, Brandon Infiesto 4-46, Dustin Beswick 3-40, Nick Slavens 3-18, Team 1-minus-2; Clinton, Dustin Caldwell 9-35, Ryan Driscoll 6-30, Alex Caldwell 3-10, Jaylen Broadenaux 2-7, Cody Collender 5-4, Eric Maddasion 4-minus-14.
PASSING — PV, Letney 9-13-0, 130 yards. Clinton, Maddasion 6-10-1, 44 yards.
RECEIVING — PV, A.J. Smith 5-82, Redmond 3-32, Conor Bryant 1-16; Clinton, Collender 2-29, Driscoll 2-10, Dustin Caldwell 2-5.