By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
Clarksville had every right to believe it should have been sitting on a comfortable lead as halftime approached.
Yet, its lead was just four points and Preston was threatening to go ahead on the scoreboard.
The Trojans had a second-and-goal from the 3-yard line in the final half-minute. After a rough opening half in which they just as easily could have been staring at a double-digit deficit, they appeared ready to seize control.
The go-ahead score never came, though, and Preston never reached the end zone again in a 46-30 loss in the second round of the Iowa eight-player football playoffs.
“It was huge,” Preston quarterback Colin Larson said of being kept out of the end zone. “It would have been big because we would have gotten the ball right back in the second half. If we would have scored there and could have scored right away in the second half, it would have been huge.”
That’s the kind of night it was for the Trojans, who bowed out with a 9-2 record.
Clarksville (10-1) scored twice on its first three plays for a lead it never surrendered, rushed for 400 yards, took advantage of Preston mistakes and made a pair of goal-line stands to advance to a matchup in Friday’s quarterfinals against unbeaten Gilbertville Don Bosco, which handed both Preston and Clarksville their lone regular-season losses.
Nothing loomed larger, though, than the goal-line stand to end the first half.
“That was some great defense played by Clarksville,” Preston coach Kevin Behr said. “I think our kids executed all the way downfield to put themselves in that position. I told them at half I think I made a couple of bad play calls. I guess that’s just the way the game goes.”
A 33-yard punt return by Andrew Driscoll set up the Trojans at the Clarksville 19-yard line with 1 minute, 39 seconds left in the half. Three plays later, Driscoll ripped off a 6-yard gain, giving Preston a first-and-goal from the 9 with 32.2 seconds left. Another 6-yard gain by the junior made it second-and-goal at the 3.
“We went down to a five front,” Clarksville’s Collin Jacobs said.
The Indians dug in, and Driscoll was stopped for a 1-yard gain on second down, and Preston took its last timeout with 8.2 seconds left. Next, Larson tried to run the ball up the middle and was stuffed as the final seconds ticked away.
“We had every gap covered on the inside,” Clarksville’s Dalton Ciavarelli said. “We were thinking they were going middle, which they did, fortunately. To the outside, we had kids ready there, too, so it was a whole team effort.
“It meant a lot to us because we obviously wanted to go to half up, winning in the score, and every little point counts. It’s a two-touchdown game at the end, (so) that was huge.”
A score there might have demoralized the visiting Indians, who made the three-hour bus trip to beat Preston on its home field for the second year in a row in the second round.
“If we didn’t stop them I was going to be a little bit more nervous going into the half,” Clarksville coach Clint Hospodarsky said. “It felt like we were in control of the game, even though they had a chance to go in at half (ahead).”
Ciavarelli said: “We were saying, ‘Seniors, we’ve got one half left, one half to play your heart out.’ We never gave up, and that showed. We knew we were taking it to them, but the score didn’t show it.”
The Indians came up with another key defensive play early in the second half to suck more of the breath out of the Trojans.
With Preston facing third-and-2, Larson fumbled and Clarksville’s Mason Lovrien recovered at the Preston 29. Six plays later, Ciavarelli, Clarksville’s quarterback, used second and third efforts to score from 10 yards out on fourth-and-3 and push the advantage to 40-30.
“We played great defensively,” Jacobs said. “We had a lot of defensive stands. That probably stuck out to me the most.”
Later in the third quarter, Clarksville stopped Preston for no gain on fourth-and-2 from the 40. Preston’s final possession ended when Jacobs tackled Driscoll (29 carries, 188 yards) for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 3.
The Trojans were limited to 71 yards of offense in the second half, 259 for the game.
“They played good defense, and we didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to,” Larson said.
“We knew with their offense, being as potent as it was, that we were going to have to do a couple of different things to slow them down a little bit, and we came up with a different style of defense that we’re not used to,” Hospodarsky said. “It was working for a while, then they figured something out, then we had to make a couple of adjustments again in the second half and slowed them down.”
Behr said of the adjustments: “They were bringing different looks at us. When we were in our tight formation, they were only coming up with two linemen and then bringing backers from all different angles. They controlled the line of scrimmage. I said I’ve never been around a game of football where you lose the line of scrimmage but win the football game, and tonight was an example of that, unfortunately.”
Clarksville’s control of line went both ways. The Indians, who have two three-year starters and one two-year starter on the offensive line, rushed for 400 yards on 54 carries. Jacobs ran for 244 yards, and Ciavarelli added 158.
“I wouldn’t say we’re surprised because every guy gets somebody and our line is fantastic,” Ciavarelli said of the big night on the ground. “They get their guy and do their job, and Collin and I are just back there to score for them. They’re doing the work; we’re just doing the running.”
It didn’t take long for the Trojans to find out how potent Clarksville’s running game is. Jacobs, who took direct snaps from center much of the time, broke off a pair of 52-yard touchdown runs on Clarksville’s first three plays as it raced to a 16-0 lead.
“That three-hour bus ride kind of gets in your head, but then we come out here and we’re ready to play right away,” Jacobs said.
“We started the way that we wanted to,” Hospodarsky said. “We figured they were going to give us a different look — they have a great coaching staff and good ideas, and they did that to us last year — so we honestly thought they were going to give us a good look defensively, and we were fortunate to score the first couple of times.”
Behr said: “It’s definitely not how anybody likes to start a game. I will give our kids credit. For some reason they’ve been able to overcome adversities, and they showed it again tonight. They seem very unfazed no matter what’s thrown against them.”
Sure enough, Preston scored on its next possession when Chase Zaruba (eight carries, 67 yards) found a hole on the right side and ran 49 yards for a score.
Ciavarelli broke off a 43-yard gain on Clarksville’s next possession and capped a four-play, 50-yard drive by scoring from 2 yards out with 1:59 left in the quarter.
The teams kept traded scores throughout the second quarter. Zaruba scored on a 12-yard run for Preston, and Jacobs countered with a 13-yarder for Clarksville. Sixteen seconds later, Driscoll found a small crack in the line, then broke free for a 61-yard touchdown dash with 6:29 left in the quarter.
The Trojans got a defensive stop on the next possession, but then disaster seemed to hit.
Driscoll took himself out of the game after taking a hard hit from Jacobs on a 1-yard gain. As Driscoll was throwing up near the Preston bench, Larson and Dalton Milder were unable to connect on a pitchout, Ciavarelli recovered and two plays later he scored on a 5-yard run for a 34-22 lead.
But Zaruba reversed the momentum when he grabbed the ensuing kickoff at the 10, found a hole up the middle and then sprinted up the right sideline for a 70-yard kickoff return that made it 34-30.
“That’s kind of been this team’s M.O.,” Behr said. “We were definitely not a one-man show at all this year. That was another great example of that. At that time we had a lot of things going wrong. We lost our leader on offense, we did turn it over and gave them the short porch. They stuck it in. The kids could have folded it in right there, but there again they showed their resiliency and just how they don’t get fazed by any situation. They come right back and we took the momentum right back.
Suddenly, it seemed as if things were starting to turn for the Trojans. Things looked even better as they marched toward the end zone late in the half.
Then, one goal-line stand ended it all.
CLARKSVILLE 46, PRESTON 30
Clarksville 22 12 6 6 — 46
Preston 8 22 0 0 — 30
C — Collin Jacobs 52 run (Dalton Ciavarelli run), 11:39
C — Jacobs 52 run (Jacobs run), 10:12
P — Chase Zaruba 49 run (Zaruba run), 8:47
C — Ciavarelli 2 run (run failed), 1:59
P — Zaruba 12 run (run failed), 10:41
C — Jacobs 13 run (pass failed), 6:45
P — Andrew Driscoll 61 run (Driscoll run), 6:29
C — Ciavarelli 5 run (run failed), 3:29
P — Zaruba 70 kickoff return (Dalton Milder run), 3:18
C — Ciavarelli 10 run (run failed), 8:05
C — Ciavarelli 38 run (run failed), 11:14
RUSHING — Clarksville (54-400), Collin Jacobs 24-244, Dalton Ciavarelli 27-158, Matt Negen 1-0, Bryce Jacobs 1-minus-1, Team 1-minus-1; Preston (48-249), Andrew Driscoll 29-188, Chase Zaruba 8-67, Colin Larson 9-2, Dalton Milder 1-1, Team 1-minus-9.
PASSING — Clarksville (4-8-0-75), Ciavarelli 3-6-0-57, C. Jacobs 1-2-0-18; Preston (2-5-0-10), Larson 2-5-0-10.
RECEIVING — Clarksville (4-75), C. Jacobs 3-57, Dylan Ciavarelli 1-18; Preston (2-10), Driscoll 2-10.