By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Playing their final game at Coan Field, Clinton's seniors feared the worst at halftime of their football game against Davenport West on Friday night.
The winless Falcons spent much of the first half running through and around the River Kings, and they took a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
"I was pretty concerned," Dustin Caldwell, one of the seniors, said.
"Our defense came out a little overconfident," junior Thomas Smith admitted.
With ranked teams awaiting the River Kings for the final two regular-season games, they desperately needed a fourth win to help their playoff chances.
Fortunately for the home fans and players, the River Kings got it together in the second half and defeated the Falcons 37-23 in a Mississippi Athletic Conference game. The win left the River Kings with a 4-3 record, with four wins usually guaranteeing an Iowa Class 4A team a berth in the postseason.
"I was not going to let them take our season out," Caldwell said.
Caldwell ran for a pair of second-half touchdowns, Brady Ernst caught two touchdown passes from Eric Maddasion and Alex Caldwell added his second touchdown of the night to finish a second half that was more dominating than the scoreboard indicated.
"At halftime, we got it together," said Smith, who was among Clinton's tackle leaders and also batted down two passes. "Our seniors stepped it up, especially Alex and Dustin."
Maddasion said the River Kings shouldn't have been surprised by West, even after he hooked up with Alex Caldwell for a 24-yard touchdown pass to cap a nine-play, 52-yard drive on the Kings' first possession.
"I was definitely scared we might come out weak," Maddasion said. "They had just as good a reason to win as we had. In the first half, we were not sharp on both sides."
West (0-7) responded to Clinton's scoring drive with a 17-play, 65-yard march. The Falcons pulled even at 6-6 when quarterback Josh Thiessen sneaked in from the 1-yard line with 7 minutes, 27 seconds left in the second quarter for the first of his three touchdowns. Carlos Wright's extra-point kick put West up 7-6.
The Falcons might have gone into halftime with a bigger lead had Thiessen not bobbled a snap on their next possession. Instead, Clinton's Kurtis Williams recovered at the Kings' 24-yard line.
Still, West went into the locker room with the one-point lead, and running back Tirael Malone already was over the 100-yard mark.
The River Kings, on the other hand, used halftime to regroup.
"We had an unpleasant talk," Maddasion said. "Coach just was saying basically you can't come out soft."
The second half was like a different game for the Kings. Much as they did in the fourth quarter last week in a comeback win at Burlington, the Kings exploded in the second half against West.
They took the opening kickoff and started from their 33-yard line. Eight plays later, they had the lead for good when Maddasion lofted a pass to leaping 6-foot-8 receiver Ernst, who caught it at the goal line and came down in the end zone for a 12-7 lead with 10:09 left.
Next, the defense stepped up. After Ronnie Smeltzer ran for a first down on West's first play, the Kings held Malone to 2 yards on first down, hit him hard and forced a fumble on the next play that West recovered and then got a pass knockdown from Jones to force a punt, one that traveled just 7 yards to the Clinton 43.
Three plays later, the Kings were in the end zone again when Dustin Caldwell broke off a 42-yard run down the right side to make it 18-7.
"Duncan (Winoski) made a great block on the edge, I made a cut and then lowered my shoulder (and scored)," he said.
A field goal pulled West within 18-10, but Clinton came right back after the kickoff. The Kings went 61 yards in seven plays, with Dustin Caldwell scoring from 6 yards out late in the quarter. Midway through the fourth, Clinton put an exclamation point on the second-half surge when Ernst caught another touchdown pass and celebrated by dunking the football over the goal post, resulting in a penalty.
By then it was too late for West to do anything meaningful. Thiessen did add two late scores, finishing with 101 yards rushing.
"I couldn't take the thought of getting knocked out of the playoffs by these guys," Dustin Caldwell said.
CLINTON 36, DAVENPORT WEST 23
West 0 7 3 13 — 23
Clinton 6 0 18 13 — 37
C — Alex Caldwell 24 pass from Eric Maddasion (kick failed), 3:27
W — Josh Thiessen 1 run (Carlos Wright kick), 7:27
C — Brady Ernst 36 pass from Maddasion (pass failed), 10:09
C — Dustin Caldwell 42 run (pass failed), 7:26
W — FG Wright 26, 3:53
C — D. Caldwell 6 run (kick failed), 0:57
C — Ernst 18 pass from Maddasion (kick failed), 7:46
W — Thiessen 26 run (Wright kick), 6:01
C — A. Caldwell 1 run (Jared Redman kick), 3:55
W — Thiessen 1 run (pass failed), 0:06
RUSHING — West (49-288), Tirael Malone 22-145, Josh Thiessen 16-101, Ronnie Smeltzer 7-36, Tiquan Malone 4-6. Clinton (33-256), Dustin Caldwell 16-154, Eric Maddasion 10-61, Alex Caldwell 7-41.
PASSING — West (4-14-0-44), Thiessen 2-8-0-16, Brad Belz 2-6-0-28. Clinton (7-11-0-103), Maddasion 7-11-0-103.
RECEIVING — Tiquan Malone 2-31, Isaiah McClellan 1-7, Logan Leonard 1-6. Clinton, Brady Ernst 3-69, A. Caldwell 3-10, D. Caldwell 1-24.