By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- There are certain games when Clarke County football coach Chris Parker is glad Grant Shaw suits up in an Eagles' uniform.
The senior tailback is the catalyst for a offense that relies on an intricate single-wing formation to move the ball downfield while keeping opposing defenses on their feet.
He is the spark plug for the Eagles, the one who provides that added energy for the rest of the team and, when he has to, carries his teammates on the field. That's the kind of player Parker wants to see at his games.
Friday night was one of those games. Despite a slow start from Clarke County, Shaw provided that extra spark, rushing for 171 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 28-13 win over Stonewall Jackson.
"Our offense is designed for many different backs to touch the ball," Parker said. "Sometimes you have to have that senior leadership and that workhorse to take control. Four touchdowns and 170-something yards rushing, that says it all."
Of course, the stat line tells only half of the story for Shaw. What the numbers don't show is a tough leader who is looking to fill the shoes of an offensive unit that lit up the scoreboard last season. And early on Friday night, the Eagles were struggling to even convert a first down.
For the second straight week, Clarke County's offense came out sputtering, forced to punt on its first two drives. And though the Eagles' offense had trouble gaining yardage, it was Stonewall's defensive unit that stepped up, making sure any early-game energy was exclusive to their sideline.
"We came out a little flat, but they're a good defense," Shaw said. "They've got some hard-hitting linebackers, some of the hardest-hitting linebackers I've ever faced. They did great tonight."
But while the Generals' defense found success stopping Shaw and the Eagles, their offense had just as hard a time moving the chains, punting on their first three drives of the game.
It looked as if the first team to score would win, but late in the first quarter, Clarke County finally broke through. On a third down, Shaw took the ball down the right sideline, shedding some tackles and rushing for 59 yards to Stonewall's 1-yard line. Shaw would punch it in three plays later, giving Clarke a 6-0 lead.
The Eagles wasted little time in finding the end zone on their next drive, too, as Shaw capped off a 73-yard drive with a 2-yard score, then adding a two-point conversion to push Clarke County's lead to 14.
But just before halftime, Stonewall's offense made some noise, using a combination of running backs Trevor Warner, Jared Getz and Cole Shaffer to wear down the Eagles' defense. The versatility eventually paid off for the Generals as Getz burst through the secondary, scampering for a 52-yard score to put the home team on the scoreboard heading into halftime.
"Clarke's a good team and I think we did well against them," Getz said. "Sometimes we hurt ourselves, but overall we improved a whole lot from last week and I think it was a closer game than it turned out on the scoreboard."
Following an early touchdown from Shaw to start the second half, Clarke regained a comfortable lead as the Eagles defense looked to put pressure on Generals quarterback John-Michael Pirtle. That pressure was effective, as Clarke's defense forced a fumble on Stonewall's next drive, putting the Eagles in excellent field position. Less than a minute later, Shaw rushed for his fourth touchdown of the game, all but sealing the win for the Eagles.
"Stonewall's a scrappy bunch," Shaw said. "They're tough and the older kids know that from experience watching games and playing in games. We're lucky to get out of here with a win tonight."
The win may have been out of reach for the Generals by the time the clock trickled down to just 30 seconds left, but that didn't stop Stonewall's offense from going out with a bang. On the final play, Warner broke through Clarke County's defense for a 72-yard touchdown, temporarily lifting the spirits of the home team and making sure the Eagles knew they would be around for a full 48 minutes.
"[That touchdown] really cheered me up," Getz said. "I looked at the clock and I saw 15 seconds left and I thought, 'Man, I wish we had two more minutes to try and score again,' but it really brought us back up. We played well, I thought."