CLINTON -- One look at the schedule, then another glance at the state rankings tells the Clinton High football players what they need to know.
If they want to solidify their position in the Iowa Class 4A playoff picture, they’d better take care of business the next two weeks.
The River Kings (2-3) play Burlington and Davenport West, a combined 1-9, the next two Friday. After that are road games at state-ranked Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf to close the regular season. Four wins should get a team in the postseason, so the math equation isn’t too difficult to compute.
“Definitely, we’ve kind of gone with approach this is our playoffs,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said Friday night. “If we want to keep playing, we’ve got to come up and play good now.”
Of course, Burlington can do math, too, as it approaches Friday’s home game with the Kings at Bracewell Stadium. The playoff picture is bleaker for the Grayhounds (1-4) -- since they also have games with Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf remaining -- so their hopes might rely on beating Clinton and Davenport North and hoping three wins are good enough.
“I’m sure they’re looking at it as a definite need situation for them and looking at it as incentive on their side,” Camp said.
Statistically, Friday’s matchup seems about as opposite as can be compared with last Friday’s foe, Davenport Assumption, which improved to 4-1 with a 35-0 win in Clinton.
Whereas the Knights went into that matchup leading the Mississippi Athletic Conference in total offense and defense, the Grayhounds rank last in both categories.
“They haven’t shown that much offense, but they’ve had issues with eligibility early on and have been saying they will get people back,” Camp said. “I don’t know if they were back last week or this week.”
Burlington still relies on the run but is averaging fewer than 200 yards a game. Junior Garrett Grimshaw (28 carries-175 yards) and senior Dominique Fleming (62-171) lead the way.
Senior quarterback Nick Pierson has completed 34 of 70 passes for 396 yards and has thrown just one interception. He has completed passes to 10 receivers, with junior Tristen Roberts (9 catches-78 yards), senior Jared Porter (5-92), junior Joe Mack (3-65) and Grimshaw (7-45) his favorite targets.
“They run a double wing, run an inside trap and have a couple of good receivers,” Camp said. “They probably go to the tight end more thanyone we see. They throw a little bit more (than in the past). A lot of it is play-action, having some deep routes but a lot of them drags to the tight ends, quick outs, swing passes and screens.
“Their game is mainly on their run, though. If they get outside on us, they will have more speed than we have.”
Although the Clinton defense did a relatively good job on Assumption, the Knights did rip off some nice gains on counter plays.
“That’s definitely a concern, but it’s one we’ve been addressing all week,” Camp said. “We hope the linebackers pick up keys and follow guards.”
The linebacker corps suffered a setback last week when Jordan Chapman broke a finger that will keep him off the field the rest of the year. Duncan Winoski and Nate Harden will trade off at the middle linebacker spot, with Austin Peters starting as the weakside lineback and Justin Guilliams getting the start as the “Buck” linebacker.
“There is some good news, though,” Camp said. “Thomas Smith should be back (at defensive end). That will give us some penetration and cause some havoc inside.”
Still, a key to the defense is how much time it spends on the field. Camp is hoping that a better night for the Clinton offense will let the Kings defense get some rest.
“We’ve got to establish the run game and move the ball,” Camp said. “When our offense is not clicking, we leave the defense out there way too long. We’ve worked at that. We’ve made some adjustments that frees up our passing game.”
The Kings will face a 3-5 defense that allows more yards than any other team in the conference.
“Burlington’s defense is similar to Assumption and Davenport Central,” Camp said. “They use a three-man line. The difference is they play a lot of man-to-man. They like to come up and press.”
That could backfire, though, because it might enable Clinton to use 6-foot-8 receiver Brady Ernst more.
“We’ve adjusted some of the routes we’ve done,” Camp said. “If they’re pressing us or taking the fade away, Brady will be running a five-yard slant. But, I’ll be surprised if they take a 5-9 guy and play man on Brady. We’ve got to take advantage to where they give us options.”
Still, Camp said the key to the Clinton offense was getting the running game going. That will mean look for running back Dustin Caldwell to hear his number called a lot and quarterback Eric Maddasion to carry the ball as often as he did last Friday.
“He’s going to carry the ball a lot or have the option to,” Camp said. “I see him and eithter Delante Chamberlain or Dustin Caldwell with chances to run the ball. We’ve got some different alignments that hopefully can spark the run game.”