By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
There was a little added pep in their step this week when the Clinton High football players stepped on the practice field. That's just what you want when you have the best team in the conference coming to your house.
Re-energized by a 34-7 win last Friday at Davenport West, the River Kings (2-5) entertain unbeaten Pleasant Valley at 7 p.m. Friday at Coan Field.
"We had a long dry spell," Clinton coach Lee Camp said. "It's always a little better going to practice on a Monday after a win."
The victory against West — led by junior quarterback Eric Maddasion and the play in the Wildcat formation by juniors Alex and Dustin Caldwell — was Clinton's first since opening night against Davenport North. There had been some close calls and frustrating setbacks between the wins. Burlington beat Clinton on a last-second field goal, and the River Kings had leads against Muscatine and North Scott in the second half.
"I think we've been improving tremendously in some areas, considering the way the season has gone with the kids' injuries and situations we've been dealt," Camp said. "Our defense has really been playing better the last few weeks, and our offense is moving along."
Moving at all is getting tougher and tougher for some River Kings, however.
Senior quarterback Will Carr and senior defensive end Alex Smith remain sidelined, and last week linebacker Josiah Molina and wideout Tyler Thacker suffered shoulder injuries that will keep them out. Ryan Milroy will replace Molina, while Lucas Laufenberg and Jacob Espey will alternate in Thacker's spot.
The River Kings will need to keep those positive things going this week. The Spartans come to Clinton ranked third in the Iowa Class 4A state poll and have passed every challenge so far. They seemingly have no weaknesses.
"They do a nice job," Camp said. "Their offensive and defensive lines are both solid. Their quarterback does a nice job running the ball with the option, and he can run. They have good receivers. Their run definitely sets up the pass."
Led by junior quarterback Brady Letney, the Spartans have the top-ranked rushing offense in the Mississippi Athletic Conference and are tied for second overall. They lead the league with 296 points.
Letney has run for 712 yards and seven touchdowns on 84 carries and has completed 36 of 69 passes for 695 yards and eight touchdowns. Conor Bryant (13 catches, 240 yards) and A.J. Smith (12 catches, 202 yards) are his top targets.
Pleasant Valley's kicking game is solid. Sam Martin is 5-for-8 on field goal attempts with a 42-yarder his longest of the five. He also has missed just one of 40 extra-point tries.
Cole Picchiotti leads the defense with 58 tackles, and Devin Daly has 13 tackles for lost yardage and four sacks among his 40 tackles.
"Their defensive line is aggressive, and their linebackers can fly to the ball," Camp said. "They're really tough to run against."
The Spartans have punted just nine times all season, and Letney hasn't thrown an interception.
"They don't make a lot of mistakes, and they do a great job of taking advantage when somebody else makes theirs," Camp said.
Both teams have a lot to play for. The Spartans can clinch at least a share of the MAC title with a win, and they lead the eastern half of the state in playoff points. The River Kings, on the other hand, are trying to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. But they need a win against Pleasant Valley or next week against Bettendorf to have a chance.